Team Sky wanted to give the Tour de France and their rivals a twist in the normal Chris Froome script, says Team Principal David Brailsford. Froome attacked today at the start of the descent of the Peyresourde pass and gained 23 seconds.
He shot free when behind his main rival Nairo Quintana (Movistar) took a water bottle from his helper at the top of the 1569-metre pass. It caught many off guard, as Froome normally gains his time in time trials or summit finishes. He won by 13 seconds and took a 10-second time bonus to put 23 seconds into most of his rivals.
Brailsford, in a blue Team Sky shirt, followed Froome behind the podium and showed pride in their approach.
“I think everyone was thinking, ‘This will be predictable…’ and we thought, ‘This year we’ll make it unpredictable and make people guess what we’re going to try and do next and use the element of surprise as part of our repertoire rather than just using our physical ability,” Brailsford said.
“He’s a fantastic racer. He’s a brilliant bike rider. He’s brave. He’s courageous. He takes the opportunity when he can, as we saw today. Everybody thinks about him going up hill and we have been criticised for our going down hill.”
In the last Tour, Froome made his boldest statement on the first summit finish to La Pierre-Saint-Martin. This year’s mountain stages gradually become harder, leaving many to think as Froome approached the top of the final climb that he would make his move on Sunday in the Andorran summit finish. Froome, however, took his chance on the descent.
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Froome had five, 10 and then 23 seconds over his rivals as he steered his Pinarello down the hairpins to Bagnères-de-Luchon. He moved forward on his bike, sat practically on the top tube and tucked low while maintaining high revolutions on his 54-tooth chain ring.
“Well, it’s aerodynamic. There’s a couple of things really: one, you kind of think of Graeme Obree don’t you, when you see that? You know, with the elbows tucked in and all the rest of it, and the eccentric kind of British element to that is something that everybody can warm to… At least the Brits can, that’s for sure,” added Brailsford.
“And the other thing is that Michal Kwiatkowski came to the team this year and he descends quite often that way. Amongst the lads, they’ve been talking and looking… But, you know, you’ve got to take your opportunities and sometimes you’ve got to make opportunities and that what we tried to do.”
Sky made popular the marginal gain approach when it joined the sport in 2010. The British WorldTour team took every element of the sport, and tried to find ways of doing them better or in another way. Froome appeared to have a marginal gain with his surprise and tuck descent today.
“Ha! Yeah, maybe. You’ve got to think differently,” Brailsford added. “The marginal gains is about continual improvement and doing things [like] using the element of surprise and that’s what it’s all about – it’s sport.”
Sky would not say whether the move was planned or not. How Brailsford responded to questions about it made it seem as though the team studied the descent for such a move.
“You’ve got to give it 100 per cent to Chris. He’s on the road there, he’s calling the shots, he knows how he feels. He’s wise. He’s a smart guy and he’s brave, you know. That took some balls.”