Amidst all of the debate and furore that has swirled around Team Sky in recent months, the British squad’s fast start to the season has been widely overlooked.
Thanks primarily to Michal Kwiatkowski’s successes in the Strade Bianche and Milan-San Remo and Sergio Henao’s overall victory at Paris-Nice, Sky have enjoyed arguably their best start to a season during their eight-year existence, with contributions coming from all sides and plenty of indications that there is still more to come.
Speaking to Cycling Weekly prior to the Volta a Catalunya’s team time trial in Banyoles, Sky head coach Tim Kerrison said he hadn’t been surprised by the team’s performances.
“We’ve worked really hard through the winter, and we had a few guys last year who we knew we didn’t quite get enough out of,” he said, picking Kwiatkowski and Henao as two who have bounced back after struggling in 2016.
“Michal had quite a difficult first year with the team last year because we didn’t get things quite right with his training and his load through the year, and he got sick quite a lot.
“He came out all guns blazing in January, he was lean, fit and ready to go, but couldn’t sustain that through the season,” said Kerrison.
‘This year he’s taken a more gradual approach. He was really pretty casual through his first race in Valencia, and even at the Tour of the Algarve, where he ended up leading our team and coming second overall.
“But still he had his sights set on bigger goals later in the season, amongst those iconic events like Strade Bianche and San Remo, where he’s obviously delivered for the team.”
Paris-Nice winner Henao has also come good, in his case after injury and other setbacks resulted in an even longer period of setbacks.
“Sergio has had quite a difficult couple of years and has never quite managed to produce a big result. He certainly didn’t go into Paris-Nice as one of the big favourites, but like we always do we looked at every opportunity and took it one stage at a time,” Kerrison explained.
“He did a great ride on that first stage with the crosswinds and a good time trial and had another a good on the short punchy finish on the Friday [at Fayence] and just managed to hang on over the Saturday and Sunday despite everything that Alberto Contador threw at him.’
Kerrison described Henao’s victory in ‘the race to the sun’ as “a coming of age for him as a leader.”
“He’s a huge talent,” the Sky coach continued. “He’s quite a quiet guy within the team and it hasn’t been easy for him to mingle within the team’s multilingual atmosphere.
“But he had really key guys on the team like Luke Rowe and during the week they all forged a really strong partnership, worked really well together. The team really solidified around him as a leader, which helped his confidence to grow as the week went on.”
Even Tirreno-Adriatico, which began with a nightmarish team time trial for the British squad, concluded well with Geraint Thomas taking a stage win and fifth overall as he approaches the Giro d’Italia, his first Grand Tour as a leader.
“It was tough for G because he really had his sights set on Tirreno as a big GC objective. He went into it in great shape and within a single kilometre there were a series of incidents that meant that objective was over for him,” said Kerrison.
“But he remained positive and rode fantastically well for the rest of the race, showing everyone what a great leader he is. I think it was clear in the end he would have been fighting for the win on GC and in a way that was enough to give him confidence going forwards and keep him hungry.”
That confidence means that the Welshman’s strong start to the season should continue at the Volta, where Sky are fielding what might turn out to be a good part of the Giro d’Italia team plus returning team leader Chris Froome.