Yesterday, as the peloton crested a small rise near to the spa town of Fiuggi in southern Italy, Team Sky rode to the front. It has been a rare sight in this year’s Giro d’Italia where, mostly, it has been Tinkoff-Saxo dictating the pace.
It is all part of the plan, according to Sky. The team are aiming to win a third Grand Tour here in Italy, with Australian Richie Porte their leading contender. Porte dominated this year’s early season stage races, winning in Paris-Nice, Catalunya and Trentino.
General manager David Brailsford says he is happy to let Tinkoff-Saxo take the reins for Alberto Contador, who is in the leader’s pink jersey. Or they’ll let Astana work for Fabio Aru, who sits second overall at two seconds. Porte is in third at 20 seconds.
“We are in a good spot,” Brailsford said with his back to Sky’s ‘Death Star’ bus where Porte was showering after stage seven. “It’s a long race, and we are playing a long game.”
Sky’s other two Grand Tour wins came on the back of defensive rides. Bradley Wiggins had to hold his yellow jersey lead for 14 days in the 2012 Tour de France. Chris Froome held his for the same amount of time in the victorious 2013 Tour.
If Porte took the Giro d’Italia’s famous maglia rosa or pink jersey today after the climb to Campitello Matese, 1430 metres, then Sky would face a similar 14-day ride to reach Milan. But if Porte remained in his current spot, Brailsford would not mind.
“You have to look at the strength of your team and what the race holds,” he said. “On the one hand, it’s a nice confidence boost to have the jersey, but on the other hand, with the TT coming up, there will be time pluses and minuses there. It’ll be interesting to see where we stand after that… On the other hand, with the jersey, you have to work hard to control it, which we know.
“The key thing about a Grand Tour is to have the energy of the team when you need it, when it really matters. That’s why we’ve taken a good look at this race and come into it, knowing that Astana and Saxo are pretty full-on, we are playing the long game.”
This 2015 Giro d’Italia covers 3486 kilometres over 21 stages, which includes seven summit finishes – tomorrow being the second – and a long 59.4-kilometre time trial for stage 14 next Saturday.
The road to Campitello Matese climbs 13 kilometres with sections of 12 per cent gradient, more than what the riders faced on Wednesday at the Abetone ski resort, when Contador took the lead. It is nothing compared to the high Alpine passes in Italy’s north in the third week, but it could be enough to tilt the race in Porte’s favour and see him don the pink jersey.
The team has not always been visible so far, but Brailsford said it could take control of a summit finish when needed.
“We didn’t need to do it yet. Think about it. There are a lot of guys here already working very hard. We are coming at it maybe a little bit differently than we raced in the past. We are waiting for the moment.”