Team Sky was one of the first teams to face the Tour de France media on Thursday morning before they headed out for a training ride in the rain of northern France.
Chris Froome and team manager Dave Brailsford took centre stage, with the other riders in the strong Team Sky line-up flanking them on the long table. Ahead of them was a packed room of media and a dozen television camera ready to catch their every word.
Geraint Thomas, Mikel Landa, Wout Poels and Sergio Henao were the closest to Froome, just as they will be in the important mountains of the Tour de France. Luke Rowe, Vasil Kiryienka and Ian Stannard will be expected to help and protect Froome during the opening weekend in La Manche and on the flat stages.
Froome described targeting a third Tour de France victory as the “toughest challenge in my career to date” but looked lean, if not leaner than in previous years. The atmosphere was relaxed but also serious as the clock began to tick down in earnest to Saturday’s opening stage.
With media from across Europe and the world, there were even some question and quips about Britain’s decision to quit European Union and poor performance of the England football team. Brailsford preferred not to respond to a question about him somehow being involved in the future of the England football team but that only fuelled the idea that he could one day leave cycling to use his management skills in other sports. For now though he remained focused on winning the Tour de France.
“This is one of the high points of year for us. We get a feel of anticipation and excitement every year but it’s different this year, there’s a real excitement for the race, we know it’s going to be hard and very tough this year,” Brailsford said.
“We’ve got a fantastic leader. He took slightly different approach to the season this year, coming into top form later to hold it into the Olympics and second part of season. That’s been fun doing it, it’s been a different way of doing it but Chris is in great shape.”
“The defining factor is the strength of the team. Everyone has led Sky in their own right during the season and so they all know how to play a leadership role. Now the challenge is to come together and fulfil the team function. We’ve potentially got the strongest team on paper but as they say: A star team will always beat a team of stars. Now it’s about coming together and achieving that. It’s exciting, we all love this race. We grew up watching it and starting up in north is nice because we’re one of cycling heartlands of France.”
Thomas ready to work for Froome
After a disappointing Tour de Suisse, Thomas confirmed that he is ready to work for Froome before thinking about his own overall ambitions.
“Now it’s about doing my job for Froomie,” he said. “I hope to feel good when we start climbing. Anything else is a bonus. I’ve got my head around helping Froomie, I’m not thinking about personal ambitions at moment.”
Froome and Brailsford reiterated their strategy of building up gradually during the 2016 season to hit a high peak of form in the final week of the Tour de France and then hopefully hold through to the Olympic time trial and road race in early August.
Brailsford insisted that the Team Sky squad is strong for the mountains but also for the opening stages when positioning and protecting Froome is vital. Brailsford is not worried about the likes of Movistar, Tinkoff and FDJ joining forces to try to stop Froome winning.
“We’ve got a slightly biased team for climbers, we left some exceptional bike riders at home,” Brailsford said. “If you worry about people ganging up on you, you are not able to focus on yourself. We’ll make the race and choose our tactics accordingly. It’s about being proactive and controlling, rather than worrying about other people.”
Nairo Quintana (Movistar) is considered as Froome biggest threat but Brailsford believes he has identified chinks in the Colombian’s amour.
“He has had a good season. He usually has a strong last week and the question is if he’s stepped up. He’ll be asking himself the question as much as others. He’s confident but there’s a question there too because he’s never done it (won the Tour de France). That’s an opportunity for us. When he rides he’s brilliant but there are chink in his armour if an opportunity arises, we’ll take it.”