Dave Brailsford has given his unequivocal backing to Chris Froome as Team Sky's leader for this summer's Tour de France and in so doing dealt a significant blow to Bradley Wiggins' hopes of mounting a successful repetition of his historic victory last year.
Wiggins declared last week he wanted the double – to win the Giro d'Italia and retain his Tour title – but Brailsford, Sky's principal and Wiggins' boss, sought to draw a line under a debate that threatened to accompany the team all the way to the Tour start line in Corsica next month, declaring Froome would be the team's sole leader.
Sky's season has been built around Froome targeting the Tour while Wiggins pursues the Giro – he ended Monday's third stage in second place – but the 33-year-old's desire to win both has seemingly intensified over recent weeks, causing increased focus on the cool relationship between the two and their status within the team.
Last week Wiggins said he did not expect a final decision to be made until days before the Tour. Froome, who is not racing in the Giro, responded with a statement saying he expected to lead and had been told so by the team management – a standing underlined by Brailsford.
"As always the team selection is a management decision and it will be evidence-based," said Brailsford. "However, it is crucial there is clarity of purpose and for that reason we will go to the Tour with one leader. Taking that into consideration and given Chris's step up in performances this year, our plan, as it has been since January, is to have him lead the Tour de France team. Our final selection of nine won't be confirmed until after the Dauphiné." That French race finishes on 9 June.
It does not end Wiggins' hopes of the double – depending on how the Giro unfolds, he is still expected to be part of the Tour line-up – but it makes it significantly less likely as the team's focus will be on Froome, so long as the 27-year-old is judged capable of victory. It is a sport, though, in which circumstances can quickly change.
Brailsford that the issue had not become a distraction. Monday's solid, contained ride by Wiggins in the Giro followed Sunday's impressive victory in the team time trial. "Everyone here is 100 per cent focused on this race and the next three weeks," Brailsford said.
Froome is continuing his preparations for the Tour – on Friday he rode stage 15, the daunting and crucial Mount Ventoux climb – which begins on 29 June.
This season Froome has won the Tour of Oman, Critérium International and Tour de Romandie in an impressive run that has mirrored Wiggins' build-up, and form, of last year.
"We're in a fantastic position – we have two of the best [general classification] riders in the world, both great racers with a competitive will to win," said Brailsford. "Since the start of season, Bradley's performance plan has focused around training specifically to try and win the Giro and then ride the Tour, whilst Chris's has been focused on attempting to win the Tour."
Before leaving for Italy last week, Wiggins gave his most candid, if occasionally contradictory, statement of intent. Wiggins said it had always been his intention to go for victory in both the Giro and the Tour and that he was prepared, to all intents and purposes, to settle the leadership on the road over the course of the opening stages of the Tour.
Wiggins also acknowledged he would accept the team's decision – and has always accepted that Froome is the likeliest leader – but said it would not leave him in a domestique role.
Wiggins said last week: "It may be that Chris is the leader but that doesn't mean I am going to sit on the front for 200km and lose half an hour." He added: "We both want to win the race and are both incredibly competitive. That's the main thing really."