It might be an unpredictable and chaotic opening week of this year’s Tour de France but Team Sky principal Sir Dave Brailsford has revealed that his squad have approached the tricky series of ‘classic’ stages the way it knows best: with a plan.
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“We had identified specific jobs for everybody at very specific sections, and they all duly delivered,” he said. “We worked back from G [Geraint Thomas] dropping Froomey off on the climb, and then we looked at the climb and worked it out.
“We set out this morning with quite a clear plan, and that was it. Everybody did their job at exactly the right time.”
After early work from the likes of Ian Stannard and Luke Rowe entering the final hour of racing on a crash-marred stage in Belgium, Froome was delivered into the final 10km of the 153.5km stage by Richie Porte, Peter Kennaugh and Thomas.
The Welshman delivered an exceptional ride to drop his leader off in the perfect position on the Mur de Huy, where Froome remained tucked in third wheel behind Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal).
He took to the front of the bunch as his rivals dropped back, riding his own tempo with his elbows out, but couldn’t quite follow the kick of stage winner Rodriguez. Nevertheless he put 17 seconds into his two main GC rivals, Nairo Quintana and Vincenzo Nibali, and 24 seconds into Alberto Contador.
“[It was] a three minute effort, [we worked out] how to ride it optimally, and he just did his own thing,” Brailsford explains. “I think he’s a little bit frustrated that he didn’t go a bit sooner, because I think he wanted to win it.”
Brailsford downplayed the significance of the team’s tactics – “I’d like to say it was fantastic strategy but I’d be lying. You can’t be that clever” – but added that Sky has made a conscious decision to ride more aggressively this year than in previous opening weeks.
“You have to be willing to spend a bit of energy to stay in the front, to gamble a bit to get through this,” he said. “It comes at a cost, you have to make a calculated risk, and at this moment in time we want to be in the race and we want to be in there all the way.”
Taking the yellow jersey so early on in the race could be seen as a burden for the British team, however Froome’s position means that Sky go into the crucial day over the cobbles on stage four as the number one vehicle in the race convoy, meaning spare wheels and bikes are as close as they could be.
However he added that it would ‘logical’ for the team to consider tactically losing the jersey to a rider who is not a threat overall in order to take the pressure off Froome and his teammates’ shoulders.
“It’s early doors and it’s nice to get your nose in front, but it’s a bit like scoring a goal in football and then you’re really vulnerable for the next five minutes afterwards,” he added. “I’d say we’re pretty vulnerable right now, that would be my message to this lot [of riders].”
Tour de France 2015 preview: stages 5-9