Team Sky’s boss Dave Brailsford says that the team is beginning the big Classics more streamlined and with clearer roles. This Sunday, Geraint Thomas will lead the team together with Michal Kwiatkowski in the Tour of Flanders
Brailsford showed a broad smile Sunday morning at the start of Ghent-Wevelgem, and he had reason to.
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Two days prior, Kwiatkowski won the E3 Harelbeke and Ian Stannard took the sprint for third place. He looked over his troupe stepping off Sky’s black bus, noting how different it is than in the last six years.
“One of the things we have is less leaders, less clear leaders,” Brailsford told Cycling Weekly.
“In the past, we had a strong group who all think that maybe they have a chance, so you lack that real clarity of who’s going to give what for whom.
“I think we suffered from that in the past. Now, it’s a lot clearer in the roles and who’s doing what. They are all 100% committed to each other, which makes that little bit of a difference.”
Wiggins left Sky to race the track, Thomas has turned his attention to stage racing and former world champion and last year’s Amstel Gold Race winner, Kwiatkowski joined Sky. Brailsford, though, said the focus is sharper now.
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Kwiatkowski, Thomas and Ben Swift led in Milan-San Remo, where Swift sprinted to second. Thomas raced the Volta a Catalunya, but returns for Flanders and co-leads with Kwiatkowski. And for Paris-Roubaix, on April 10, Rowe and Stannard will have their chance to lead.
“From a team’s point of view they are buoyant, they are having a good time. It’s a good group and the morale is good. When you race with confidence, it’s big difference,” Brailsford added.
“When a big new rider like [Kwiatkowski] comes to the team, it’s like having a big striker in your football team, he wants to get that first goal.
“The longer they go without that first goal, the more pressure it puts on everybody. He was thrilled to get that [E3] win. It’s good for his confidence, good for his belief, and it settles him down in his new team. The pressure’s off him. He can enjoy himself now.”
Brailsford then considered the 2016 season so far. Kwiatkowski won the E3 Harelbeke one year after Thomas and the Welshman earlier this month won his biggest stage race yet, Paris-Nice. He defended the team’s 2015 victory with Richie Porte, who joined BMC Racing this winter.
In terms of team victories, it is the second most successful in the WorldTour. Etixx leads with 19, Sky and Astana both count 12.
“That’s the most pleasing thing, to come back and [defend titles] with different riders. We are not just relying on two rides to deliver.
“It’s also pleasing to see how young lads like Luke Rowe are going. His performance in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad was very encouraging. The team is developing, we are not just relying on two guys with nothing underneath.
“We are very much on track [to have the most successful season yet]. We had a great start to the season.
“We won with Wout Poels the other day. Chris [Froome] is back into racing. He needs Catalunya before he steps up that to that next little step. He was 27 minutes down last year in Catalunya, so I’d say he’s in a much better place than last year. It bodes well.”
Brailsford said the Tour de France will be an “all-mighty battle” with Froome going up against Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) and Porte. He does not want to forget about the Giro d’Italia in May, though. This winter, he signed Mikel Landa, third in 2015’s race, to lead.
Landa delayed his season until last week due to a cold and Beñat Intxausti, another new Spaniard to the team, had to take a break with glandular fever. Brailsford admitted that the team had many illnesses.
“That’s probably my only question mark with the illnesses,” he added. “Landa has definitely come back around and it’s now a question of getting his training right between here and the Giro.”
Sir Brailsford then turned his attention back to the last of his riders heading to the Ghent-Wevelgem. Rowe, later in the day, attacked with the favourites over the Kemmelberg and said the race gave him confidence for Paris-Roubaix.