By Gregor Brown
Chris Froome and Team Sky are stronger this year ahead of the Tour de France, according to head coach Tim Kerrison. Froome is competitive enough, both on and off the bike, to win - and in the worst case scenario, he has a back-up option.
"The wins leading up to the Tour were important to develop him," Kerrison said on Tuesday, "but also to build the confidence of the guys around him, in Chris's ability to perform, and the staff's confidence."
Froome worked as domestique deluxe last year to help Wiggins realise his dream of winning the Tour de France. He finished second overall at three minutes back and appeared ready to win if Wiggins had stumbled, but there was more work to be accomplished.
Kerrison worked with Froome to identify the 2013 races that he needed to perform well in, and races he needed to win. In doing so, he would learn about the pressure and demands of leading stage races.
Not only did Froome perform well, but also he won four out of the five stage races he started. He failed in Tirreno-Adriatico, finishing a close second, but won the Tour of Oman, Critérium International, the Tour of Romandy and Critérium du Dauphiné.
"He set objectives over the winter. He had a good Tour last year, but didn't have the best lead-ins to stage races. With him we sat down to develop what it would take to be ready, but also to lead a team, and cope with the pressure and the demands. That involved consistency, he wanted to have consistency throughout his performances," the Australian coach said.
"We also wanted to prepare Chris for the other stresses, like the scrum outside the bus, the press conferences - all those things that add quite a significant demand to the race. It takes a lot of time from your day... He's spent a lot of days in the jersey this year, there's been a lot of interest in him, and he's become better in handling those demands."
Kerrison explained that both Chris and the team has evolved. Sky has more and more GC leaders. Rigoberto Urán took over when Wiggins abandoned the Giro d'Italia last month and placed second overall. Another Colombian, Sergio Henao accompanied Richie Porte to the podium in the Tour of the Basque Country, finishing third and second overall respectively.
Porte has been Froome's deputy much in the way that Froome was for Wiggins last year. When Froome won Critérium International and the Dauphiné, Porte placed second overall. On his own, he won Paris-Nice.
"Richie's definitely capable of winning the Tour de France, anyone who wins a race like Paris-Nice has got the ability to win it," Froome said of Porte on Tuesday.
"The way we've ridden at Team Sky has always been to have a plan A and a plan B."
"That's the concept," Kerrison added. "In our Tour history, we finish with eight riders. Many teams might lose a rider to a crash or illness, and ideally we want to be able to take out one of those riders and still win.
"We don't want what happen in 2011, where Brad crashed [and abandoned with a broken collarbone], but now, with the strength and depth we have we can take anyone of those riders out and still be a very competitive team. And have every area of the race covered."
Sky announced this afternoon that Edvald Boasson Hagen, Peter Kennaugh, Vasil Kiryienka, David López, Kanstantsin Siutsou, Ian Stannard and Geraint Thomas would support Froome and Porte.
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