Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford is confident that he has picked a line-up that is capable of winning the Tour de France.
The British squad announced its nine-man roster on Monday and balances powerful riders capable of shepherding Chris Froome through a hazardous opening week with with climbing strength for the second half of the race.
“They all have different roles to play,” Brailsford said of his charges on Sky Sports News on Monday. “The challenge is to play their particular role to the best of their ability. If they all perform to the best of their ability I’m sure we’ll win the race.”
With potential crosswinds on the Dutch coast and exposed roads of northern France, leg-sapping finishes atop the Mur de Huy and the Mûr de Bretagne, and cobbles that formed part of this year’s Paris-Roubaix, the opening eight stages promise chaotic, Classics-flavoured racing.
With that in mind, Brailsford is calling on Het Nieuwsblad winner Ian Stannard, E3 Harelbeke champion Geraint Thomas, and Paris-Roubaix top-10 finisher Luke Rowe to protect Froome.
"I think he [Stannard] is going to be absolutely pivotal in those first 10 days," said Brailsford. "He is a big guy – he’s a powerhouse. His real role will be protecting the team, protecting Chris. Chris will sit on his wheel through the day, but then when we need to chase or control the race then Ian Stannard is our man. He’s so strong, so versatile.
"[Luke] was eighth at Paris-Roubaix and of course we’ve got a cobbled stage in this year’s Tour and that’s where he’ll come into his own, in the crosswinds riding on the front. Again, he’s a powerhouse of a rider. He and Ian will have a big, big job looking after the rest of the guys."
The latter half of the race heads towards the Pyrenees and the Alps with no fewer than five summit finishes. Should the main general classification men come through those opening stages relatively unscathed, the Tour will come down to who is the strongest in the mountains.
That’s where Richie Porte, Leopold König, and Woet Poels come in. Porte was key to Froome’s Tour victory in 2013 and Brailsford believes there is no better super domestique in cycling.
“He’s in great shape, recovered well from the Giro, he’s one of the world’s best climbers. In the past when him and Chris have ridden together as a united team, when Richie really supports Chris in the mountains, I don’t think there’s anyone in the world who can do that job as well as Richie.
“The role for Leo [König] in this race will be to support Chris. He’s a fantastic climber in his own right, but when it really gets down to the final few riders in a stage we’d expect Leo to be there supporting Chris.”
Tying the whole thing together will be Nicolas Roche, who will act as road captain in his first season and first Grand Tour with Sky, having joined from Tinkoff-Saxo last year. The 30-year-old has ridden 13 Grand Tours, with six top-15 finishes, and has worked with Alberto Contador in the past two seasons.
“[He is] one of the most experienced guys in professional cycling. He can climb well, he’s a strong punchy rider, has lots of experience, knows how to position the team. He’s there for his experience, for his general guidance. He’ll be the road captain and will call the shots.”