When he accelerated on La Toussuire with four kilometres to go, Chris Froome left behind Bradley Wiggins, the rest of the group and, it appeared, team orders.
Twenty seconds later, he spoke into the race radio, slowed and the fragments drifted back together.
“They asked me to slow down,” Froome said after the finish, referring to Team Sky directeur sportif Sean Yates.
At the finish, Froome distanced Wiggins by a couple of seconds sprinting for the line in the final 300 metres.
He moved up to second overall, 2-05 on his compatriot. The day’s big loser was Cadel Evans, falling to fourth and 3-19 down.
When Wiggins was asked whether the attack was planned and who called Froome back, he said: “I didn’t call him back, I didn’t have my radio in at that point, my piece had fallen out. But we talked about Chris maybe attacking in the final.”
“This morning we were planning on Cadel still being there and Chris maybe making the twenty-one seconds up [today] to move to second on GC because Chris wasn’t 100% confident he’d get the better of Cadel in the last time-trial. As long as I stayed with Vincenzo and those guys, that was the plan.”
Froome still following team orders
Questions fired at him in a finish line scrum, Chris Froome talked about sticking to team orders. “Our plan is to look after Bradley and I’m here to do that.”
When asked if he was frustrated, Froome said: “No, I follow orders at all costs. I’m part of the team and I have to do what the team asks me to do… Bradley is just as strong as me and stronger than me in the time-trials.”
“You realise you can win the Tour?” a journalist asked.
“… Maybe one day,” he replied.
“We feel you’re able to win the Tour,” another persisted moments later.
“Thanks for the compliment, but I think Bradley’s in a better position,” Froome said.
Wiggins: “Bit of confusion” at moment of attack
Asked in his post-race press conference what he felt at the moment Froome attacked, Wiggins said “I was really concentrating on my effort and keeping it constant, I’d been riding for two kilometres beforehand… I didn’t want to make any more of an acceleration but there was a lot of noise, a lot of things going on the radio and a bit of confusion at that point.”
“He showed today that he certainly had the legs. It was another great day for the team,” Wiggins added.
In one respect, it’s job done: Team Sky controlled attacks from Cadel Evans and Vincenzo Nibali and a pair of British riders now occupy the top two positions in the Tour de France.
But while there’s no doubting Sky’s strength in depth, hints about internal conflict and questions about whether Sky are riding for the right man may linger on minds after Froome’s brief show of strength.