• Will Thomas be able to hold yellow? (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
A pervasive narrative surrounds this Tour de France, perhaps turning off fans more than doping or crowd misbehaviour: Team Sky already has it all sewn up.
By
Jamie Finch-Penninger

24 Jul 2018 - 9:11 AM  UPDATED 24 Jul 2018 - 9:18 AM

People dislike Team Sky for a number of reasons, I won't go into that here. You're likely to have your own thinking on the British squad's domination of past Tours de France.

The team has performed brilliantly so far this Tour - even their detractors don't dispute their dominance - and Geraint Thomas occupies the Yellow Jersey with a convincing one minute and 39 second advantage over teammate Chris Froome, with a further 11 seconds over Team Sunweb's Tom Dumoulin. 

But break it all down a little and it's clear the Tour isn’t wrapped up in black and white orca shaped bow.

Firstly, can Thomas win the Tour de France?

The Welshman and the team are 'on message'. He's a back-up leader to Froome. That's the way it has looked on the road, with Thomas not afraid to set up Froome attacks or ride on the front to help out his 'leader'.

This makes his own performance more impressive, particularly his Alpe D'Huez victory, and he is the worthy leader at this point of the race.

Thomas' pedigree as a climber hasn't been his problem in Grand Tours. His Achilles' heel has proved to be lasting the three weeks without suffering a 'bad' day.

And we're talking really bad... 22 minutes lost during Stage 19 of the 2015 Tour when he was fourth on GC, six minutes on Stage 15 of the 2016 Tour, five minutes on Stage 9 when he was 2nd in the 2017 Giro d'Italia. In each of those cases an in-form Thomas had an off-day and fell dramatically down the standings.

Not that it's a given he'll lose time, but there is quite a bit of precedent. His best grand tour result is 15th, a mark that seems well below his quality as a climber and a time triallist. Thomas knows this himself.

When questioned earlier this week by SBS reporter Sophie Smith on the subject of Froome and Dumoulin both attempting the Giro/Tour double Thomas said, “I’m more surprised by myself being up there. It’s all good.” 

And it is surprising. Thomas is a world champion track rider in the team pursuit, turned cobbles rider, turned one week-racer and super-domestique, turned Tour de France contender. It's an unlikely story and what makes more unlikely is that he will win a maiden Tour de France at 32-years-old. 

So we have to admit there's a decent possibility Geraint Thomas doesn't win the Tour de France.

Then there's Chris Froome. The four-time Tour de France winner is currently occupying second on GC and is performing well. He's won the past three grand tours in a row.

He's the unstoppable force on the climbs and the immovable object on top of the standings.

But will that be the case this time? He is trying to complete a rare Giro-Tour double, a feat not completed since 1998 - in a different era for the sport. He is dealing with nastiness on the side of the road that few have seen in the past, enough to prompt others in the peloton to come to his defence and publicly ask for decency.

Not that any of this seems to faze Froome who never complains about it, maybe he even draws upon it as motivation. 

Any difficulty he experienced was minor, picking himself up from two crashes on Stage 1 and 9 without any problems, and barely conceding any time to his rivals on the climbs. The exceptions; a handful of seconds to Dumoulin, mostly due to time bonuses on the finish line, and eight seconds to Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo). 

It's a top-notch showing so far, but he needs more if he wants to win a record-equalling fifth Tour. Taking Thomas out of the equation, the British champion knows he'll need more time than he currently has on the individual time trial world champion, Tom Dumoulin.

Froome is always strong for a late TT in a Grand Tour, but I think even he would admit Dumoulin has his number against the clock. Is that number 11 seconds? Over a 31 kilometre course like the one set for Stage 20, I'd say that 20-40 seconds is the range of time we'd see taken by Dumoulin.

So Froome must take time, not just conserve his lead on Dumoulin, the one rider we've seen consistently on par with the four-time winner in the climbs. Fortunately for Froome, Dumoulin is also in Giro/Tour double mode, and with considerably less experience than Froome in riding consecutive grand tours.

Finally, there's the lurking threat. Primoz Roglic's 2018 form could scarcely be better. He won both the Tour of Romandie and Pais Vasco, also his lesser-rated home race, the Tour of Slovenia. The one stage race where he 'failed' on GC (he crashed in Stage 2 and was well behind before the race got serious) he won a stage and was impressive. He is also an accomplished time triallist, winning two out of four TTs this season (placing second and ninth in the others).

Roglic strongest of GC contenders on climb to Mende
It's time to put the 'former ski jumper' narrative firmly on the back seat and see Primoz Roglic as a serious contender for this year's Tour de France.

He comes in with nice fresh legs compared to Froome and Dumoulin, and without the 'bad day' baggage of Thomas. However, Roglic has never been in the position to have 'bad' days in a Grand Tour because he doesn't have the experience of being in a good enough position that he could ruin with a poor showing. 

What counts most in his favour is how he came out of Stage 14 saying, "I wish the climb was longer." He's hungry to take more time and looks a big threat, even at 59 seconds down on Froome.

So that's the case. I'll agree Team Sky are in a strong position, but this Tour de France is far from over, as some people will have you believe. It doesn't take too much imagination to find a scenario where there are winners other than Team Sky, and we've seen bigger turnarounds in the final week of racing at a grand tour in recent years. 

As humans, we come to recognise patterns and heuristics to help us make some sense out of the chaos that life, and in this case cycling, presents us. One of those rules of thumb is when Team Sky leads a race, they don't lose it. That will be true, up until the point it isn't. All the greats eventually fall. Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, the Australian cricket team... they were all the best until they got beaten.

Team Sky's time is coming and it may well be this Tour de France.