Team Sky will return to the Tour de France next year stronger and with renewed focus, the squad’s principal Dave Brailsford has said after the outfit suffered a dismal series of setbacks at the 2014 event.
The British-based WorldTour team had its worst result at the race since its season debut in 2010, with riders crashing out, falling ill and failing to feature in stage wins or the overall classification.
The race started well, with Froome keeping out of trouble in the opening stages in Britain until he crashed heavily on stage four, and then twice in the following day’s wet, cobbled stage, forcing him to retire. ‘Plan B’ Richie Porte immediately took up the reins, but faded badly when the race hit the mountains and a chest infection set in. The team’s woes continued with Xabier Zandio dropping out on stage six.
Although several of the teams riders got into escapes in latter stages, none found success. Spaniard Mikel Nieve ended up the team’s highest-placed rider overall, in 18th and 46 minutes and 31 second adrift of race winner Vincenzo Nibali (Astana).
“We came into the Tour with high hopes but after five days we lost Chris, which was a blow because we believed he could win the race,” said Brailsford. “Then we had Richie [Porte] in second place as we headed into the first rest day, but things didn’t go well for him either during the second half of the Tour.
“We’ve won a lot at Team Sky, and at some point you can’t keep winning. That’s disappointing, but sustaining success is different than trying to achieve it the first time around, and there’s a lot of learnings we can take from that.”
Brailsford says that Froome has travelled to America to rest and recover from his fractured wrist and hand, but had still been following the team’s progress during the race and is already looking ahead to next year.
“This setback has made him very, very hungry, and more determined than ever to come back next year and fight for that yellow jersey again.”
Froome may now aim for the Vuelta a Espana, which starts on August 23.
One thing Brailsford has not addressed is the lack of British riders included in the team’s Tour line-up despite the British start: with only Froome and Geraint Thomas included. Over the weekend at the Commonwealth Games, Peter Kennaugh – who was a key helper in Froome’s win last year but not selected to ride this year – said that Sky needs to put more faith in some of its riders.
“I feel like I’ve already proved what I can do, I don’t feel like I need to prove myself anymore. It’s starting to get frustrating when the team says things like ‘you need to go and prove yourself’”. Newly-crowned British road race champion Kennaugh won the Tour of Austria while his team mates were riding in France.
Wiggins was another rider not selected for the 2014 Tour, and has since said that he wants to switch his focus to the track ahead of the 2016 Olympic Games and get away from the ‘politics’ of road racing. His long-running spat with Froome has been widely reported, not least in Froome’s own autobiography.
“The road is quite cut-throat. The track feels more like a family and a closer-knit group of people. That will probably be it for the Grand Tours. I can’t imagine doing that now,” Wiggins told the BBC.
Since Wiggins made those remarks, Brailsford has said that Sky is discussing Wiggins’ future with the team beyond when his current contract expires at the end of the season.
“He has made it quite clear he wants to go through to the Rio Games and ride,” Brailsford said. “And we are talking with his management team and how we can support that and try and make that happen. We will continue with those discussions.”
Sky’s troubles were made worse with the announcement during the Tour that the team’s Jonathan Tiernan-Locke had been suspended for two years due to a doping infringement relating to tests taken in 2012 before he joined the squad. Tiernan-Locke’s Sky contract was terminated immediately.
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