Sky’s slip-up yesterday in the Tour de France, where Chris Froome lost one minute in the wind-swept stage to Saint-Amand-Montrond, seems more a case of legs than tactics. However, some questioned the team’s direction and wondered if the situation would have been different if Sean Yates was still a sports director.

Saxo-Tinkoff put six riders on the front, split the lead group and distanced yellow jersey Froome. By the finish, it gained 1 minute, 9 seconds for Alberto Contador. Small, but concerning.

Froome had Ian Stannard, Geraint Thomas and Pete Kennaugh for company, but they were unable to make a dent in Saxo’s lead.

“It’s not easy. Even if you’re classics riders, like Thomas and Stannard, when you’re screwed, it’s hard to do ride at the front,” team Belkin sports director, Nico Verhoeven told Cycling Weekly.

“With echelons, it’s the same as when you’re going uphill, when you’re screwed, you can’t work for your teammates. In echelons, it’s a fight. If your team is not good enough, if your help is not good enough, you have to fight. Froome got up to the front, but five minutes later, he was at the back again.”

Yates left the team during its re-commitment to a zero-tolerance doping approach over the winter. He said that he wanted to spend more time with his family and that his departure had nothing to do with Sky’s pledge of allegiance.

He raced for years and experienced many situations as a sports director that helped Bradley Wiggins win the Tour last year. Wiggins, at the Tour of Catalonia, said Yates was “pretty much irreplaceable”.

“I’ve found it hard, because I really relied on him a lot. He seems to know every climb in Europe. That helps. He’s got so much experience from previous years,” Wiggins explained.

“Everyone is trying to catch up with his way of doing things, with the information, with … I’ve found it hard, because I really relied on him a lot.”

Sky relies on Frenchman Nicolas Portal and Dutchman Servais Knaven in the Tour. They both retired from pro racing in 2010, compared to Yates, who retired 1996.

“The Tour de France is maybe their worst race so far this year. In the Dauphiné, they had the same directors. They pulled, where they wanted and when they wanted. They were the fastest team, but now they’re weaker,” Verhoeven added.

“However, as a DS, you are as good as the riders are. If you make a bad decision and your riders are strong, it normally goes unnoticed. But when you make the right decision and your riders aren’t strong enough, that doesn’t make you a bad sports director. It’s the team at the moment, Sky is not strong enough.”

Philippe Mauduit, Saxo-Tinkoff’s DS said that tactics and planning do play their part, but ultimately it comes down to the riders’ legs.

“We have the map on the knee, but the boys have the bike between their knees in the end, they are the ones making the show on the road,” Mauduit told Cycling Weekly. “We are there to support them with the right information at the right time.”

The answer will only likely be known when the Tour arrives in Paris. At that point, if Froome is in the yellow jersey then all doubts will have been forgotten.

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