Second consecutive Tour win but Classics team disappoints
Team Sky 2013 WorldTour Ranking: 2nd /19 Win Count: 35 Top riders: Christopher Froome (2nd), Richie Porte (10th), Sergio Henao (18th), Rigoberto Uran (27th) Grade: A-
It was another Jekyll and Hyde season for Team Sky with dominant performances in stage races contrasting to another disappointing run in the Classics.
It’s of course unfair to be too critical of a team that won the Tour de France for a second consecutive year – the first squad to do so since US Postal or Telekom depending on your interpretation of the record books – but Chris Froome was a near unbeatable force in multi-day events, collecting stage race titles from the start of the season, all the way through to his Tour win in July.
In fact Froome won every stage race he started leading up to the Tour 2013, bar Tirreno-Adriatico, with wins in Oman, Criterium International, Romandie, and the Dauphine, all before the team’s marquee outing in July.
Aside from Froome, the team picked up a batch of impressive results with Richie Porte winning Paris-Nice and Rigoberto Uran winning a stage and slotting into second overall at the Giro d’Italia. In total, Team Sky won 35 races at an average of over one per-week between January and October, with enough points to claim a close second place behind Movistar in the UCI’s WorldTour rankings.
While there was much for the team and their supporters to cheer about, the 2013 season had its setbacks too. Targeting the Giro d'Italia always came with risks and it was always going to be impossible for the side-burned one to repeat the exploits of 2012 but his capitulation on the wet and cold roads of Italy, followed by his failure to make the Tour team due to an injury took some of the shine off Bradley Wiggins’ star. His resurgence towards the final months of the season brought about wins in the Tour of Britain, a stage in Pologne and a medal at the Worlds in the time trial, all demonstrating that while his Grand Tour days may be behind him, he still possesses the desire to succeed.
In the one day Classics arena the team were found wanting yet again. Much was made of their new build up and training regime at altitude instead of racing but from Milan-San Remo all the way until Paris-Roubaix the team failed to register a result worthy of their budget, roster and objectives. Hayman and Stannard flew the flag on occasions and lady luck was certainly absent at times but Geraint Thomas, Bernhard Eisel and the consistently under par [ed. in the Classics at least] Edvald Boasson Hagen, all failed to deliver. Henao popped up with a fine podium place in Fleche Wallone but by then it was too little too late.
The John Tiernan Locke blood values case may continue to rumble on into 2014 but the pressure Team Sky faced during the Tour with repeated questions and allegations of doping eclipsed anything that the Devon-born rider has so far brought upon them. With the race sown up relatively early the team fought to establish credibility both for their own souls and that of the sport. Coming so soon after USADA’s reasoned decision it’s arguable that any winner, from any team, would have been put under the spotlight. Never mind the fact that Froome has enjoyed a meteoric rise since the Vuelta in 2011.
What to expect in 2014:
Once again stage races will form the central focus of the team’s ambitions with a third consecutive Tour de France the most important target in 2014. The Giro d'Italia will receive attention from the marginal gain operators, with Porte handed the responsibility of leadership, while the loss of Rigoberto Uran will create new chances for the younger riders on the team.
Yet while team principal Dave Brailsford may already have the core of his Tour team in mind, perhaps his biggest challenge will be getting the best out of Wiggins. The 2012 Tour winner has already gone on record as to state that he may not ride the Tour again, with many believing that the Classics or a return to the track could be on the cards. However Brailsford will be aware of what a fit and motivated Wiggins can bring to both the team and the home fan base that still see him as a cult hero. The relationship between Wiggins and Froome will be key and with the latter’s book set to hit the shelves during the coming season, Brailsford may be forced to fight as many fires off the road as well as on it.
For the Classics Edvald Boasson Hagen will once again lead the line but responsibility will also fall to Stannard, Eisel and Thomas as the British team try and claw themselves into contention against the likes of Omega-Pharma and Trek. They lack a rider of the calibre of Fabian Cancellara or Tom Boonen – most teams do - but more will be expected from them as they look for their first major one day win. Sebastian Langeveld was a provisional transfer target but according to the rider the team dithered and Garmin swooped in. The Dutchman may not be in the same league as the established big hitters but Brailsford can surely only role the dice so many times with the riders he has trusted to date.
The team have been fairly quiet in the transfer period, choosing to ignore the failings of the Classics contingent and instead bolstering their climbing talents with Mikel Nieve and Philip Deignan shrewdly picked up. The Irishman was on the cusp of joining the team back in 2009 after a strong ride in the Vuelta but chose – badly in hindsight – to remain with Cervelo. The team folded within a year and Deignan found himself scrambling for a contract. He failed to settle at RadioShack and illness has been a problem in the past but under the care of Mike Tamayo at UnitedHealthcare, Deignan has regained form and fitness over the last 12 months. His best results this year have come in North America but despite turning 30 he has the talent to make a mark of the European scene.
The departure of Mat Hayman may not have raised too many eyebrows due to aging legs but the Australian was one of the rare positive aspects to take from the Classics. His experience rather than is results will be the bigger void to fill. Rigoberto Uran is undoubtedly the biggest loss. The Colombian, who finished second at the Giro d’Italia has been tipped for greatness since joining Caisse d'Epargne back in 2008. When Patrick Lefevere came calling with a sack full of Zdenek Bakala’s cash and the chance of leading a team Uran jumped at the chance.
Who to watch:
With BMC’s Cadel Evans closing in on retirement much will be expected of Riche Porte from the Australian public. Evans, a top ten contender in Grand Tours for almost a decade has rather big shoes to fill with Porte next in line. From Team Sky’s point of view the team will be encouraged by Porte’s ride during the 2011 Giro d’Italia in which he wore the pink jersey and finished seventh overall. At Team Sky he has developed into Chris Froome’s wingman whilst also carving out his own opportunities in week-long races. The 2014 Giro provides Porte with his first real shot at wining a Grand Tour. And while Nairo Quintana will line up as the favourite – assuming he starts – the podium should be the minimum requirement for the Australian.
Chris Froome: Tour of Oman, Criterium International, Tour of Romandie, Critérium du Dauphiné, Tour de France Richie Porte: Paris-Nice Edvald Boasson Hagen: Tour of Norway Bradley Wiggins: Tour of Britain