Heading into the stage 19 time trial, most of the time gaps look like they'll hold steady. Most notably, the top of the race, where reside the unquestionably two strongest riders, looks to be set as it's unlikely Froome will take two minutes from his leader.
But while it's abundantly clear that Wiggins and Froome are the top two riders in the race, it's certainly less than clear that that's the proper order.Froome enters the the 53km final time trial two minutes and five seconds in arrears of Wiggins, but a good three-quarters of that came on one day - stage 1. I can't really say I remember why Froome finished 1'25" down - possibly because he didn't think at the time that he had as good a three weeks in him as he did - but that was the only time Froome ceded time to Wiggins in a road stage (he also finished physically back in the stage two days later, but the 3km rule was invoked). All other days he's finished with Wiggins or even slightly ahead of him. Froome was 9 seconds off Wiggins in the prologue and 35 seconds behind in the first long time trial.
It seems that Wiggins is, if marginally, the better time trialist of the two (Froome was second-best in the first long chrono). We can wonder forever where Froome might be on GC if he were riding as the leader of a different team and Wiggins didn't have him for support. That's not actually what this is about.
My only 'what if' is what if Froome had finished at the front of the race on the Tour's road stage. What if he entered this time trial just 40-some seconds behind Wiggins. Would that be a good thing?
As it is, it would likely take one of the worst time trials of Wiggins' career for him to lose the Tour now. Even when he was never a GC man, he was always someone we eyed for time trials, no doubt owing to his track cycling pedigree. Prior to his revelation at the 2009 Tour, he had a national time trial championship and time trial stages at six races in his palmares, along with the Duo Normand. Even now, Chris Froome has never actually won a time trial, but just like his GC ability, his time trial prowess is emerging as decidedly threatening.
It's my understanding that while riders are duty-bound to act in the best interests of their designated leader during road stages, it's really every man for himself in the time trial. And at the most basic level, it's stupefyingly commonsensical - how would it even be possible to temper one's effort so as to not surpass a designated leader? It's not like in road stages where you can just see where the man is and dutifully stay with him. At the 2001 Vuelta, Levi Leipheimer entered the final time trial (which in this race was on the very last day) 1'35" behind Roberto Heras, but took two and a half minutes out of him with his second place ride to move past him and onto the final podium. I don't know the circumstances of this race (I wasn't following cycling except the TDF, at the time), who was the designated leader and if it may have been a "they're both doing well, co-leaders" sort of situation (Leipheimer didn't exactly come from nowhere - he was fifth on GC entering the time trial), but it certainly seems a rare example.
Something somewhat similar in spirit occurred in the Vuelta seven years later. Now this race I was following (I think it was actually the first time I followed a race that wasn't the TDF), and I knew that Leipheimer was not the designated leader, and rode in Alberto Contador's service on the grueling 13th stage to Angliru. Coming into that Vuelta's final time trial, held similar to Tour tradition on the second-to-last rather than very last day, Leipheimer was a distant-but-not-insurmountable 1'17" in back of El Pistolero. All of it was from Angliru - Leipheimer won the first time trial and actually rode as race leader for two days in the Vuelta's first week. Only after Angliru did Contador surpass him on GC.
Leipheimer won the second time trial as well, finishing 31 seconds clear of Contador and Alejandro Valverde (who were within fractions of a second of each other). It wasn't enough to change the race leadership, but if Contador had finished eighth or lower it would have been. And he seemed to take issue with it after the Vuelta, that Leipheimer had appeared to ride with winning the race in mind.
But could you actually blame him?
So indeed. What if Froome were only 40 seconds behind Wiggins, a gap that could easily cause a change at the top with daily variances in form? It would no longer take a catastrophic time trial from Wiggins - but merely a subpar one. Froome has said he is not racing Bradley in this chrono, but a) That's what he's supposed to say and b) Even if he were, he would lose. Wouldn't be the case if not for that seemingly silly minute-plus lost on the road into Seraing.
I'm sure Team Sky are thanking their lucky stars that Froome lost that time, but what about you? Would you have liked to see an honest battle at the top of the GC in the chrono, between two teammates? Would it have been good for the Tour, and indeed the sport as a whole, as I ask above? I can see both sides of the argument, so I'd like to know what the Cafe thinks.