Team Principal David Brailsford said that yesterday’s Tirreno-Adriatico stage result proved that Sky’s cyclists are not ‘robots’. Under rain showers and over climbs touching 27 per cent gradient, Brailsford’s leader Chris Froome lost the overall lead to Vincenzo Nibali (Astana).
“People get carried away with the whole machine/robot kind of thing and at the end of the day, they are human beings and they showed that,” Brailsford explained. “It’s bike racing, exciting, you have to tip your hat to Nibali. He did a brilliant ride.”
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Over the preceding two days, Sky’s Dario Cataldo, Rigoberto Urán and Sergio Henao kept Froome protected. Up the 14.5km Prati di Tivo climb, they destroyed their competition with an inferno-pace and put Froome in a position to win.
They did more of the same on the way to Chieti. This time it came just one hour before Richie Porte won Paris-Nice over the border in France.
Sky’s work prompted some to refer to them as ‘robots’, cyclists who follow power meters instead their feelings. It is unclear where the comments originated.
The situation was completely different 24 hours later. Froome lost Tirreno-Adriatico’s blue leader’s jersey to a brave move by Nibali. He attacked on the sharp slops of Sant’Elpidio a Mare and rode free with Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale), some of the best descenders in the business.
Under dark skies with Froome inside the bus licking his wounds, Brailsford laughed at the ‘robot’ jibes. However, he admitted it was the price of success.
“It’s bike racing, OK, but there’s part of me thinking there’s no point in winning too much,” Brailsford continued.
“Days like today are good because it shows it’s about guys racing bikes, everybody’s human and everybody can have bad days and different days. You can’t de-humanise it. It’s a human endeavour. … What makes it exciting is having suspense, that’s why sport’s exciting. There was suspense all the way.”
Froome now sits second on GC at 34 seconds. His only chance to salvage time is in today’s final stage, a 9.2km time trial along the Adriatic coast in San Benedetto del Tronto. It appears too short to claw back such a deficit.
Brailsford said that Sky and Froome could learn lessons from their failure.
“You do learn from these situations. You normally learn more from things that go wrong than those that go right,” Brailsford explained.
“Could we’ve played it differently tactically during the day? We still would’ve had to ride on the front. [Rinaldo] Nocentini was in the front group, which kind of meant we had to ride. [Without him] and had there been bigger time gaps we would’ve let the break go and let the other teams ride. Apart from that, really, I don’t think it would’ve changed much.”
Froome said that he was under-dressed and over-geared. He finished with a short-sleeve jersey and vest, riding on a bike with 36×28 gears.
“There’s no point in trying to find reasons,” Brailsford continued. “Nibali took his chances and credit to him. I think we should credit him instead of looking for what went wrong.”