Team Sky has announced their Tour de France line up for this year's race with defending race champion Chris Froome leading the squad. As expected Bradley Wiggins will not take part in the race, however Froome will be backed by a team including, Richie Porte, Geraint Thomas, Mikel Nieve, Vasil Kiryienka, David Lopez, Bernhard Eisel, Xabier Zandio and Danny Pate.
The make-up of Team Sky’s Tour selection has been the centre of major public debate over the last few months with uncertainly over the team due to a number of factors.
Illnesses and injuries have played a part with Porte, Froome and Wiggins all spending time on the sidelines this season. The long standing injury to Ian Stannard and the benching and ultimate injury to Sergio Henao have also been factors, while Edvald Boasson Hagen and Peter Kennaugh have also been ruled out.
However, the debate over Wiggins’ possible and now confirmed exclusion has overshadowed the selection process.
The 2012 Tour winner and Olympic champion appeared on the BBC weeks earlier and claimed that he would not be riding the race. It forced both Froome and Dave Brailsford into stating that the team’s selection process was far from complete and that the final team had not been confirmed.
"It’s a very, very tough decision. He has been a great champion, is a great champion. But my job is to pick a team to win," Brailsford said today.
Sentimentality and fan pleasing do not win bike races and Brailsford has put together what he feels is the best team possible in order to help Froome win a second straight Tour. It’s a pragmatic approach but one that has served Brailsford well in the past and although Wiggins would almost certainly be in the Tour team if selection was based off Watts, experience and publicity, harmony and team spirit appear high on Brailsford’s agenda too.
Wiggins and Froome have had long standing issues dating back to the 2012 Tour de France. The latter’s recent autobiography may not have helped the situation but in truth the pair haven’t raced together in Sky colours for over a year and they’ve not even been in the same room since a winter training camp. When the team announced that Wiggins would ride the Tour de Suisse – a race he would go on to abandon – and that Froome would concentrate on the Dauphine, the writing was on the wall. And in a sense Wiggins appearance on the BBC, a rival for Sky, although well timed, only served to highlight a growing void between him and his employers. It wasn't just about whether Froome could trust Wiggins but whether Sky could too.
"Team Sky returns to the Tour de France with the reigning champion and we are looking to win the yellow jersey for the third time in three years and a second consecutive time for Chris Froome. Defending champion Chris Froome is an exceptional talent, a brilliant stage racer, and he’ll lead the team,” Brailsford added in a team press release.
"We know how hard it is to win this race and that it takes a totally focused and carefully constructed team, with the right blend of riders, to give us the best chance of victory. Each rider has been selected to play a specific role, which will involve total sacrifice and commitment to the team’s ambition of reaching the Champs-Élysées in yellow.
"In tackling the difficult challenge of selecting this team, we have stuck to a performance-first philosophy which has bought us considerable success, firstly at British Cycling and then with Team Sky, for more than a decade. Given the number of talented riders in Team Sky this approach has inevitably lead to some very tough decisions – however it’s crucial to remain totally focused on the desired outcome and we're racing to win.
Other than the exclusion of Wiggins Team Sky has selected the best possible unit in order to help Froome. Injuries have forced them into a number of decisions but they've gone for experience.
Although Porte has struggled this season the team believe that the Australian is on track and that he will be the force he was in 2013 once the race hits the mountains.
Nieve will be key and has been selected to help Froome in the mountains.
Geraint Thomas will be instrumental on both the flats and on the climbs, while Kiryienka, Lopez, Zandio, Pate and Eisel will look to protect their leader on the flat. It’s a team packed with experience: Zandio is 37, Pate 35, Lopez and Eisel 33 and only three riders under the age of 30.
Froome will need all of that in his quest to win a second Tour. "We have a really strong team going into the race, full of experience and ability, and we’ve spent a lot of time together this year which is very important. We’re ready to get started and can’t wait to get to Yorkshire,” he said.