What a difference a day makes. Just 24 hours after taking a seemingly tight grip on the Tour of Britain, placing three men in the eighteen-man break to Stoke and setting up the finish for Greg Henderson, Team Sky saw their chances of winning their home tour effectively torpedoed on a rain-soaked and hilly Welsh stage on Monday.
They were left to rue the decision to sacrifice Bradley Wiggins and Geraint Thomas on the run-in to Stoke on Sunday. Although the British riders’ efforts helped Henderson win the stage and claim the race lead, they also contributed to the fact that both riders lost contact with the lead group in the final 2km, with both conceding over a minute.
That left Henderson exposed as the only Team Sky rider who could win the race. But the New Zealander began to struggle on Black Mountain, 70 miles into Monday’s third stage, as Michael Albasini (HTC-Columbia), who had also been in the previous day’s 18-man break, piled on the pressure, eventually going clear on the descent.
Ironically, Wiggins was the only Sky rider able to stay with Albasini, who was later joined by teammate Tony Martin as HTC-Columbia sensed that the race could swing back in their favour.
“Bradley was up front but the others stayed with Greg, because Greg was on the limit,” explained Team Sky sports director Steven de Jongh at the finish in Swansea. “They went really hard on the climb and Greg didn’t have anything left.
“Then Bradley made the call to wait to help Greg,” continued de Jongh. “And then they did everything they could to chase, but they couldn’t bring it back. We weren’t getting time gaps, and there were some mix-ups [on race radio] with names, but it was forty seconds, fifty seconds, a minute - they were losing time.
“It was Bradley’s call to wait,” added de Jongh. “It didn’t change much in general classification because he also lost time on Sunday. [After that] if you want to go for the win, you have to try and help Greg.”
De Jongh admitted that the stage had effectively ended Team Sky’s hopes of the outright win. “With the gap now, I don’t think GC is possible, so we’re going to try for some more stage wins,” said de Jongh. “Albasini is really strong, and there’d have to be a strange situation with groups going away, but I don’t think that’s going to happen now.”