Rivals set to test Sky for weakness in first week of Tour de France

Defending champion Chris Froome and his Sky team-mates will be put under pressure from the start, according to their rivals

Team Sky will face enormous pressure to win their fourth Tour de France title this month, including during the first two stages, say rivals.

Wind is hitting Normandy hard this week with rain mixed in at times. Insiders predict the Tour’s peloton will split into echelons already on the first day on Saturday (July 2) as it races from Mont-Saint-Michel to the coast at Utah Beach.

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“All of the teams will try to take the advantage of Sky, but that’s going to happen in any race when you are the favourite,” 2011 winner and BMC global ambassador, Cadel Evans said.

“Sky has a weighted team with climbers, but let’s get through the first week. The first week won’t be easy, and I get the feeling some teams might have underestimated the difficulties of the first two days here.”

Sky’s manager David Brailsford said that Geraint Thomas, Ian Stannard, Luke Rowe and Vasil Kiryienka could protect Chris Froome in the intense first days through Normandy. Froome had his Tour cut short in 2014 when he crashed three times in the first week.

“Sometimes it can be a blessing or a curse, they bring a strong line-up with a defending champion,” said Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing), who sat third overall last year in the third week before abandoning with a stomach problem.

“They will have be the ones setting the pace and taking control, and stick their noses in the wind. That will cost them energy. Everything in this Tour points that it’ll come down to the third week. When it comes to the third week, will they be burned by then? I don’t know.

Team Sky at the 2016 Tour de France

Team Sky at the 2016 Tour de France team presentation

“Do they have the team to handle it? Yeah, they won three Tours in the last years, so that shown they can handle it, but it’s still a big ask. Chris Froome has shown good form in the Dauphiné, but he’s shown to be beatable.”

Van Garderen also placed fifth overall twice. This year, BMC Racing also counts on former Froome helper Richie Porte. The Australian joined the American WorldTour team after racing four years with Sky, including on all three winning Tour teams with Bradley Wiggins and Froome.

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“It hasn’t changed, not really, I don’t see Froomey quite as much as before,” Porte said. “We are still friends, but on the bike we are rivals. It’s no different from him or Nairo Quintana, you still want to beat him.

“I am banging bars now with Luke Rowe, who is also one of my best friends. I don’t expect any favours from those guys. But it’s too early to get caught up in Team Sky and how Froomey will ride, there are 198 riders in the race. I’m going to just look into this team because it’s not a one-dimensional thing, it’s not just that guy and trying to read Chris Froome.”