Intrigued by what might develop between Team Sky's two leaders, who are sitting first and second as the Tour de France enters the Pyrenees on Tuesday for the third and final week of the race? The biggest challenge to Chris Froome's aspirations of capturing a fifth Tour title is his own teammate, Geraint Thomas, who has worn the overall leader's yellow jersey since he won Stage 11 in the Alps. If you've missed the goings-on and want to catch up, here's a quick primer.
How do their résumés compare?
Froome, 33, was born to British parents in Kenya and grew up there and in South Africa, but has competed for Great Britain since 2008. He finished second at the 2011 Vuelta a Espana and emerged into broader international cycling consciousness, ironically, when he was involved in a dynamic similar to his current one with Thomas: the 2012 Tour de France, where he appeared to be stronger than eventual winner Bradley Wiggins but the team's established pecking order compelled him to work for Wiggins anyway.
Thomas, 32, from Wales, first excelled on the track and was part of winning team pursuit gold at two Summer Olympic Games and three world championships. He began coming into his own in classic one-day events and shorter stage races in the past few seasons and has shown staying power in three-week races as well, previously completing the Tour de France seven times (including 2013, when he rode in support of Froome with a fractured bone in his pelvis incurred in a crash). His career-best Tour finish to date is 15th, in 2015 and 2016.
How did Thomas get the yellow jersey?
Thomas -- who wore the race leader's jersey for the first four days of the 2017 Tour, courtesy of his win in the opening individual time trial -- attacked out of a small, elite group that included Froome and won the uphill finish of Stage 11 at La Rosiere in the Alps by 20 seconds. Much of Froome's current 1:39 deficit to Thomas is because of his Stage 1 crash in which he landed on grass and was able to ride away, jolted and delayed but uninjured.
With Froome's accomplishments, why did Sky come into the Tour with co-leaders?
Sky was hedging its bet on Froome for two reasons. There was at least a slim possibility he would be barred from racing the Tour because of a then-pending doping case, and Tour organizers had indicated they might try to prevent him from starting. Froome tested over the allowable threshold for salbutamol, an asthma medication, during last year's Vuelta a Espana, and the investigation into that result was leaked in December. Amid mounting criticism of both his team and the ponderous doping jurisprudence system, he continued to race and won the Giro d'Italia in May.
The UCI, cycling's governing body, relied heavily on the World Anti-Doping Agency's scientific advice in ultimately deciding against pursuing a case against Froome, but that decision was not announced until a few days before the 2018 Tour started. Thomas raced in a couple of important tune-up events and won the Critérium du Dauphiné in the Alps in June. His prerace status as co-leader protected Sky in the event Froome was overly fatigued from the Giro campaign or unable to race.
Why doesn't the team just pick one rider to support?
Even this late in the race, it's still to Sky's advantage to keep both men where they are in the standings in case one man has a bad day physically, a mechanical problem or a crash -- and perhaps to keep both egos intact, although that's pure speculation. Very few teams have this kind of problem to solve. The Spanish Movistar team came into the Tour ostensibly with three leaders, but the designations seemed more like honorifics than a true triptych. If one of those men were leading the Tour at the moment, no question the other two would be conscripted into his service. If Sky's current No. 2 were anyone but Froome, the internal rankings also would be clear.
Do they get along?
There's been no outward hint of tension between the two riders, who were young teammates on the Barloworld squad (2008-09) and several Olympic and world championship rosters for Great Britain. Thomas has made continual reference to Froome being "the man," a proven quantity in three-week races who has won six Grand Tours and is the current defending champion of the Tour, the Giro and the Vuelta. Froome -- who in past years has evinced almost no emotion under severe stress of various types on and off the road -- has repeatedly said it would be a good result if either man wins the Tour and their positioning puts them in a "dream situation."
Who could still threaten Sky's one-two punch?
The most obvious and proven rival to Thomas and Froome is Team Sunweb's Dutch leader Tom Dumoulin, who currently sits 11 seconds behind Froome in third place. Dumoulin won the 2017 Giro d'Italia, is the reigning world time trial champion and is seemingly unintimidated by Sky's dominance. Former elite ski jumper Primoz Roglic of Slovenia, who last year became the first rider from that country to win a Tour stage, is still a threat in fourth at 2:38 behind Thomas, and his LottoNL-Jumbo team has performed well for its under-the-radar leader.
Saturday's individual time trial is so short (19 miles) and both Thomas and Froome are strong enough in the discipline that both would-be spoilers will have to make up considerable time in the upcoming Pyrenees stages in order to be competitive. The rest of the men in the top 10 are long shots unless they -- along with Sunweb and LottoNL -- can find a way to gang up on Sky. Thomas and Froome also lost a support rider expected to help them in the mountains when Gianni Moscon was kicked out of the race for punching a French rider in the first mile of Stage 15.
Will crowd and security concerns affect Thomas and Froome's ability to go the distance?
Sky as a whole and Thomas and Froome specifically have faced hostility at this race, ranging from roadside and podium booing, to rude gestures, to a fan's shove (which Froome was able to fend off), to multiple reported incidents of spitting. Hazardous smoke flares set off in some crowds have been attributed to anti-Sky sentiment, but there's no way to be certain about that. A confluence of unruly fans and a bottleneck on Alpe d'Huez caused 2014 Tour champion Vincenzo Nibali to crash, fracturing a vertebra, and his Bahrain-Merida team has threatened legal action against the Tour for failing at crowd control.
Past Tour crowds have sometimes impeded riders and altered results even without the kind of personal animus being expressed toward Sky. Riders have been manhandled and shot at with BB guns, and Lance Armstrong received death threats during the 2004 Tour. But the combination of doping controversies and dominance running through Sky's brief history has caused fan negativity to spike again -- a situation that may have been exacerbated by Sky general manager Dave Brailsford, who Monday called the overt ill will "a French cultural thing," conveniently ignoring the multicultural makeup of Tour crowds in the mountains. It was an aggressive statement -- another kind of punch thrown -- that could backfire with spectators and Tour organizers. Let's hope it doesn't lead to anything more serious than has already occurred.
Where will the rubber hit the road?
Tuesday's stage includes a couple of Category 1 climbs and a downhill finish. It's suited to a breakaway winner, and the guess here is the overall contenders will mark each other's moves and keep their powder dry for Wednesday's short (40-mile) Stage 17 that ends on one of the toughest climbs on the course. That day could make the difference, but if not, Thursday features two "beyond categorization" climbs before a downhill finish, then the time trial awaits on Saturday. Froome has proved he is capable of defying convention: He went on a 50-mile solo attack that cemented his Giro win in May. But that dramatic come-from-behind victory required a concerted effort from the entire team and staff, and thus far, Sky has shown no signs of consolidating its loyalties.