Now that we all know who Mark Cavendish will be riding for next season, it seems – if Twitter and forums are anything to go by – that the next question that many bike fans want answered is how Team Sky might go about accommodating Bradley Wiggins’ aspirations for the Tour’s yellow jersey with Cavendish’s likely goal of defending his points title at the same race.
Going into next year’s Tour, it will be 15 years since two riders on the same team claimed the yellow and green jerseys in Paris. Back in 1997, Team Telekom claimed that double when Jan Ullrich and Erik Zabel took the GC and points title, respectively. What is perhaps not so well remembered is that the Telekom team was built very much around Ullrich, and that Zabel was often left to find his own way in bunch sprints.
It’s hard to imagine Cavendish being put in the same position as his HTC sprint mentor Zabel, nor is it easy to picture Wiggins being left to fend for himself either. This suggests that compromise will be required on both sides. But perhaps not as much as many are suggesting…
Looking back at Sky’s performances this season and the British team’s staggering show of force at the Worlds, it may turn out that the British team has the personnel to accommodate the objectives of both Wiggins and Cavendish, and perhaps even some other big names as well.
Take the first week of the Tour, where Sky actively went searching for bunch sprint victories and took one in Lisieux thanks to Edvald Boasson Hagen’s blistering finish having been set up by Juan Antonio Flecha and, ultimately, Geraint Thomas. With Ben Swift and Christian Knees also in the team to work either in conjunction with or for the Norwegian, Sky were as well prepared for the sprints as any other team in the race apart, of course, from Cavendish’s HTC-Columbia.
Indeed, Sky’s management had admitted that they learned from the previous year’s Tour. That year they focused all of their firepower on what turned out to be a below-par Wiggins and it showed that it is better to give yourself more than one chance of making an impact at the world’s biggest race. Wiggins’ crash that put him out of this year’s Tour at the end of the first week only served to underline the importance of that change of strategy.
Of course, prior to leading out Boasson Hagen, Sky did not expend lots of energy by setting the pace in the bunch and chasing down breaks as HTC did. But over the past three seasons everyone has expected HTC – who never had a stand-out GC rider to protect – to do the bulk of the chasing and pace-making to take advantage of the race-winning ability of Cavendish, Matt Goss and André Greipel.
With HTC now out of the picture and their riders scattered throughout the peloton it remains to be seen who, if anyone, will pick up this mantle next season. My guess is that Sky will to some extent, but other teams will do so as well, including GreenEdge, Lotto-Ridley, BMC and Omega Pharma-Quick Step.
Consequently, Cavendish may not have the kind of lead-out train he’s had at his disposal during his successful period with HTC-Highroad, but he won’t be out on his own. At most races he’ll be amply supported, and even at the Tour he’ll be well supported with the likes of Bernhard Eisel, Thomas, Flecha, Swift, Boasson Hagen, Chris Froome and Wiggins all in the frame to start and all likely to perform lead-out duties to a lesser or greater extent. Wiggins, too, will be looking to some of these same riders to support him in the mountains, but will lean mostly on Froome and Rigoberto Urán, who have both emerged as strong performers in the high mountains this season.
If the leaked Tour route is to believed, Wiggins will have 100km of time trialling to give himself a significant edge on the specialist climbers, who will have relatively few summit finishes to make their talents pay. The leaked route suggests that Cavendish will also have plenty of opportunities to fill his stage-winning boots.
The ins and outs of the 2012 Tour route will become clearer when the route is officially launched in Paris next week. However it shapes up, I don’t expect Dave Brailsford and the rest of Team Sky’s management to be overly concerned about how they will accommodate Britain’s two headlining riders. They’ll be delighted to have both men on their roster and eager to see what the team can achieve in what is set to be a landmark season for British cycling with the London Olympics following the Tour.
They may also be reflecting that melding Cavendish and Wiggins into the same team could be a breeze compared to the task other squads face. Over at BMC, John Lelangue has to work out how to achieve a successful Tour formula that accommodates Cadel Evans, Philippe Gilbert and Thor Hushovd.