Teamwork is a vital element in any victory. In the last week's Paris-Nice Bradley Wiggins and team Sky rode a tactical race ensuring victory for the British rider. Often seen at the front was Wiggin's teammate Danny Pate, driving the peloton, kilometer after kilometer.
Pate made the jump into professional cycling back in 2000 with the Saeco-Valli & Valli team. His 2001 season highlight was taking the gold medal in the World U-23 Time trial Championships. Instead of staying in Europe, he returned to the States riding for Prime Alliance, Health Net, Jelly Belly and then a five-year run with the Slipstream organization, then known as Garmin-Transitions, which ended in 2010.
"I had been there long enough to not know anything different," explains Pate of his stint with Slipstream.
However, in his final year with the team, Pate's kilometers raced and finished in 2010 with Slipstream were a little over half than previous years. This was due to his exclusion from a Slipstream Grand Tour squad during that final season.
"It came to a time that I wanted to move on to something else," said Pate of his exit from the team. "One of the reasons for changing teams was for a change of pace. Sometimes it's not about just winning races. It's about wanting to be where you are."
Fortunately he rebounded with the HTC-Highroad team and rode the 2011 Tour de France for a third time as a part of teammate Mark Cavendish's lead-out train.
"Something there was just different," says Pate of HTC-Highroad. "I don't know if it was the riders and the staff they had, but at the end of the day we won races – for whatever that was worth – they didn't get a new sponsor anyway."
HTC-Highroad owner Bob Stapleton was unable to find a sponsor to continue the team into 2012 and Pate was again on the job market.
This season Pate landed on his feet with a two-year contract with Team Sky, and while there are always some challenges transitioning to a new team, but the change to Sky, Pate says, was easy.
"One of the biggest barriers to changing a team is often cultural changes and the language barriers."
"Changing from Garmin, to HTC, to Sky wasn't that hard. It's only as hard as you make it depending on your personality. It's been pretty smooth."
Cavendish and Wiggins
As a new member to the British super team he really hasn't had much time getting to know his new teammates. He hasn't attended any team training camps and Paris-Nice was only his second race in a Team Sky kit. However, he is very familiar with two of the stars of the team: Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins.
Pate knows the Manxman from their time together at HTC.
"Mark can be straight forward and puts out what he's thinking," says Pate of his teammate. "The other guys might be thinking it, just not saying it. It's just Mark being Mark."
"At the end of the day he's putting his feelings out there and being honest compared to other riders. When it comes to being on the team and when we're on the bus he doesn't b.s. his teammates. He's a very good teammate and never does negative things to his teammates, which I've seen other riders do. He's a solid teammate and pulls the riders together."
"He balances it pretty well for the amount of races he's won. Yeah, sometimes he comes off brash but Mark can say what he likes – he's being himself."
Wiggins and Pate have also shared a team bus in 2009 with Garmin-Slipstream before their arrivals at Sky. For Pate, the Englishman is still a bit of a mystery.
"Brad is different than Mark. He doesn't talk a lot. Brad is pretty quiet, guarded with what he's thinking or saying. That's just how he is."
"I've been teammates with both for about the same amount of time and I know less about Brad."
Pate continues that Wiggins' quiet personality might be more well known now because he is a legitimate favorite to win the upcoming Tour.
"Brad is still the same guy he's always been, just now everyone is watching him."
When asked the classic job interview question, 'How would you describe yourself?' Pate takes a pause before answering.
"I do my training and show up at the team meetings ready to go. I hope the team thinks that as well," said Pate. "Sometimes I don't care as much about the results as I care more about how well prepared I am or the team is. Sometimes things happen and you just don't win. There's a crash or mechanical and you can't change that. But you can change your attitude about what happened. For me it's more about being happy at the race than winning the race."
"When I'm happy at a race, I ride better and have more success."
Riding the front in Paris-Nice
Paris-Nice was the first litmus test of the season for the true Tour de France favorites. As such, Sky and Wiggins came with a clear objective.
"One of Wiggos main goals of the year was to win or be top three at Paris-Nice, so the team's whole goal was for that. We didn't bring any sprinters. We took climbers and guys who could ride the front. We had one goal in mind: Brad going for the general classification."
In the team's back pocket was Australian Richie Porte. He had just won the overall at Portugal's Volta ao Algarve.
"Everyone knew he (Porte) was riding well and maybe he could be on the podium as well," said Pate of his teammate.
After the opening 9.4km time trial from Dampierre-en-Yvelines to Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse, Wiggins was only one-second behind the winner Gustav Erk Larsson (Vacansoleil-DCM).
"We really knew then that Brad had a shot of going for it (the overall win). So I knew how important it was to be there for Brad in the important times – that was my only goal in mind - to help him win the race."
"In my mind Paris-Nice is right there behind the Grand Tours. There's also the Dauphiné and the Tour de Suisse, but Paris-Nice is very hard. I've done it a couple of times and it was my goal to be good just so I wouldn't have a difficult time."
"That race can just be horrible - totally brutal," explains Pate of The Race to the Sun. "So my goal was to be good there to help myself and the team, and to get myself a place on the team. I wanted them to know that when there's something important they can depend on me being there and being part of the team."
Pate agrees with Wiggins regarding his quote that a victory in Paris-Nice shows he can be considered a favorite for this year's Tour de France.
"It shows that he's right there with all the guys that can win," said Pate. "This is not the first time he's won a race among the best in a top caliber race."
"Paris-Nice in America is overlooked a bit because it doesn't get the coverage. People don't realize how hard it is. They know the Grand Tours and know they are the hardest three weeks, but I think one week of Paris-Nice is as hard as any one week of any Grand Tour. I think when you win a race like that it shows you have the ability to perform at the Grand Tours as well."
Come this July, Sky will have a squad with two potential jersey winners: Cavendish for the green and Wiggins for the yellow. How can the team balance both those rider's goals?
"It will be difficult for the team to select riders to help out in both those scenarios. It's one of the biggest decisions a director makes all year."
"I'm pretty confident that if both those riders are in good shape that both can win their jersey. Brad can win the yellow jersey and Mark can win the green jersey – it can happen."
When asked if he sees any possible conflict between the two marquee riders as they battle respectively for the yellow and green jerseys Pate doesn't see any issues arising.
"I don't think there will be a problem. They were teammates on HTC before Brad went to Garmin. They both know what it's like to go there (Tour de France). Wiggins (at the Tour de France) has always had a team set up around him. This is not the first time for him, but maybe the first time it will succeed. But for either of them this isn't the first time that they've been on a team that has planned to do both."
As an example Pate points out that HTC brought Cavendish to the Tour, as well as Tony Martin and Peter Velits as their general classification riders. Although it could be strongly argued that the main focus was the green jersey and not the pursuit of yellow.
"It's not going to be hard when they are there. They'll work it out. 'Today we are going this for the sprints and this for the GC.' They've been through this before in past teams – it's just this year they are little more favorites than they were in the past."
Asked what his dream season would be, Pate's wry sense of humor makes an appearance.
"A dream season would be that I would never race another day in the rain, I don't crash again, and I get all my paychecks."
When pushed for an answer he has one objective.
"I want to do a Grand Tour."
If Pate's performance at Paris-Nice was any indication he can expect to be at the front of the peloton,setting tempo, as Sky challenges for both yellow and green jerseys.