Tour de France favourite Chris Froome has revealed that he is in talks with Sky over extending his contract beyond 2014, in news that may cast further uncertainty over Sir Bradley Wiggins’ future with the team.
At 28 years of age, compared to Wiggins’ 33, Froome could spearhead Sky’s challenge in the Tour de France for several years to come – he himself said recently that he wanted to target it for the next six or seven years.
"I do feel at home at Team Sky," Froome told the Press Association, quoted on Telegraph.co.uk. "I feel I've worked really well with them for the past three years and I feel really fortunate to be in the position that I'm in now.
"I've still got another year on contract with Team Sky, but I'm busy talking with management now to look at lengthening that."
That current contract was itself negotiated in the wake of the 2011 Vuelta, and led to team mates jokingly calling him ‘Froomedog Millionaire.’
In that race, Froome finished second overall behind Juan Jose Cobo, with Wiggins – who had only targeted the race due to his Tour de France campaign that year being cut short with a broken collarbone – third.
Many believe that Froome would have won that edition of the Vuelta had team orders not required him to ride in support of his team mate, including on a stage where the former was in the race leader’s jersey, Wiggins taking it from him at the end of the day.
By the time Sky recognised that Froome was the stronger rider in that race, Cobo was already in the race lead and would go on to win the overall by just 13 seconds. Some see the apparent tensions between Wiggins and Froome in last year’s Tour as having their roots in the Spanish race.
Froome, however, isn’t discounting being in the same team as Wiggins for a Grand Tour: "Yes, why not? That's something management has to decide on and to see what races we're both going to target."
Nevertheless, there has been speculation over Wiggins’ future place within the team following confirmation at the end of last month that the defending champion would not be participating in the 100th Tour due to a knee injury.
That came a little over a fortnight after a chest infection had forced Wiggins out of what for him had been a disappointing Giro d’Italia.
The timing of that announcement, four weeks before the race, helped head off what would surely have been a huge amount of speculation in the build-up to the Grand Départ on Corsica regarding the relationship between the men who finished first and second last year, and whether Wiggins would fully support Froome, long designated as the focus of Sky’s challenge this year.
Instead, Froome goes into the race as the undisputed team leader, and he believes that the experience of last year’s race, when he won a stage and finished second to Wiggins in both individual time trials, will stand him in good stead.
Moreover, with a programme this year that has seen him win the Tour of Oman, the Tour de Romandie, the Critérium International and the Critérium du Dauphiné, he has followed a similar pre-Tour path to the one Wiggins followed last year to gain experience of race leadership.
"Last year I was fortunate enough to be right at the sharp end of the race, but not necessarily deal with all the pressure that Brad had to deal with," he explained.
"All the press, the conferences after every stage. I'd see Brad always getting to the hotel a good hour after the rest of us.
"I think I've got to expect that's how it's going to be for me this year at the Tour."
With Wiggins absent, Froome’s chief lieutenant at the Tour will be his friend, training partner – and Paris-Nice champion – Richie Porte, who will also provide back-up should something go wrong.
"The way Team Sky always works is that we do have a 'Plan A' and a 'Plan B' and Richie could certainly be in that position to be that 'Plan B'," Froome said.
"Let's hope there aren't any punctures or crashes in the first few days. That's going to be critical," added the Team Sky rider, who himself lost around 90 seconds to a puncture on the second stage of last year’s Tour.
With some tough stages right from the start, Froome expects it to be a different race from last year, when Fabian Cancellara had the maillot jaune for the opening week before Wiggins took it for the final fortnight.
"I don't think it's something you can really plan that specifically, when you can get into the yellow jersey; if you can get into the yellow jersey,” he said.
"At any point if I can get into yellow that would be the number one goal."