IT is ten days until the Tour de France begins in Yorkshire, but for some of the leading cyclists in the world, this week will mark the end of the road.
The teams competing on the Tour are due to settle on their nine-man starting lists before the weekend, and there will be some notable absentees from the peloton that lines up for Yorkshire’s Grand Depart a week on Saturday.
Team Sky’s team selection will be the most eagerly-awaited as there remains considerable doubt over who will be charged with the task of supporting reigning champion Chris Froome, who is now firmly established as Sky’s number one.
At the start of this month, Sir Bradley Wiggins’ chances of competing on the Tour looked all but over.
The 2012 champion’s relationship with Froome has always been something of a soap opera, but the simmering tensions between the duo became impossible to ignore when Froome’s recently-released autobiography effectively accused Wiggins of betraying signs of weakness as he became the first British rider to win the Tour two years ago.
Wiggins’ distrust of Froome stems from the latter’s unauthorised attack on La Toussuire during the 2012 Tour, and over the course of the last two years, Team Sky principal Sir Dave Brailsford has tended to keep the riders apart whenever possible.
“The team is focused around Chris Froome,” said Wiggins at the start of the month. “I am gutted.”
Since uttering those words, however, Wiggins has triumphed on the Tour of California and, while he was forced to pull out of the Tour de Suisse because of injury, he remains arguably the most in-form rider on the Team Sky roster.
He has achieved better results this season than Froome, who could only finish 12th in the Criterium du Dauphine after a desperate final stage that saw him tumble down the rankings and finish more than five minutes behind his team-mate Mikel Nieve.
As a leading pack that featured former Tour champion Alberto Contador pulled away from him, Froome struggled to shake off the effects of a crash.
Next month, more than ever, Froome needs the support of some able deputies, but his trusted inner circle of domestiques have also been beset by problems.
Richie Porte, Froome’s long-time right-hand man, has spent most of the season battling against illness, Geraint Thomas crashed out of Paris-Nice when well placed, Ian Stannard fractured a vertebra at Gent-Wevelgem, Sergio Henao fractured his kneecap in a training accident and the experienced Edvald Boasson Hagen was forced to pull out in the latter stages of the Route du Sud.
With that in mind, Wiggins could come back into the equation as a world-class rider with recent experience of winning the Tour.