Team Sky’s Tour de France line-up will not be announced until after the completion of the Critérium du Dauphiné, Tour de Suisse and Tour of Slovenia but Dave Brailsford already has the majority of the team’s roster in his mind, if not on paper.
Supporting Chris Froome will be Richie Porte, who is now recovered from his Giro d’Italia abandonment and back on his bike, while the team are waiting to assess the recovery of both Leopold König and Sergio Henao before deciding on their participation. Geraint Thomas and Nicolas Roche are also expected to form the nucleus of the team with Peter Kennaugh in the mix for his first Tour start since 2013.
“Most squads have the cornerstones of their Tour teams sorted out. You still have a few questions around the periphery and we’ll look to see what happens here and after the Tour de Suisse,” Brailsford told Cyclingnews before the start of stage 6 of the Dauphiné.
“Not many, I don’t think,” was his response when asked about how many slots were still up for grabs with the final places set to be fought out between the climbers and domestiques for the flat stages.
“You have to have that mixture of experience and form. You have to factor in if people are going to be in form in that final week. We saw that with [Ryder] Hesjedal and [Steven] Kruijswijk in the final week of the Giro, that they were starting to blossom while others might have been getting tired. That’s the ideal factor as well as form. So we have a couple of places left maybe for the Tour team. “
Every season is different, of course, and for Brailsford that means different questions and ultimately different challenges when it comes to team selection. Twelve months ago he was dragged into the public debate over Bradley Wiggins’ exclusion from the Tour team, with matters coming to a head when the Hour Record holder broke rank from Sky protocol and appeared on the BBC in a move that may have won public support but ultimately cemented his place on the sofa for all of July.
Henao and Froome both crashed in the warm-up races last year while a number of the squad were also sick or displaying patchy form.
This time around the situation is slightly different. Wiggins has walked off into the sunset – and on good terms – Froome is showing signs of decent form, while Thomas and Kennaugh have made improvements. The route of this year’s Tour is of course markedly different too with a mountainous third week, a lack of time trialling and opening first week that will see the Classics stars of Roubaix and the Ardennes shine. A Tour squad needs to be strong in nearly every department and there can be no weak links.
“Last year Chris crashed here and Sergio Henao crashed at the start of the Tour de Suisse and that changed our plans dramatically. So you don’t know what’s going to happen but at the moment it’s about fine-tuning,” Brailsford said.
“Every year is different. That’s the thing about this sport. Every season has its own unique circumstances. You just have to deal with what’s in front of you and you can’t really go back and compare or copy and paste. You are where you are and you deal with what you’ve got.
“Chris is on a upward trend and he’s feeling good. I’d say as we’d stand here, barring crashes, injuries and illnesses I’m looking forward to the Tour.”
While Richie Porte’s long-term future at the team is still undecided, the Australian is at least all but certain of a Tour de France slot. He was integral in Froome’s win in 2013 and despite a disappointing Giro d’Italia and questions over his Grand Tour credentials, he remains one of the finest super domestiques in the peloton.
“He’s training and he’s back on his bike. Let's see where we’re at and he’s for sure in the line-up,” said Brailsford.
König, who made the Tour top ten last year and followed suit at the Giro d’Italia last month will race the Tour of Slovenia later this month before his Tour participation is publicly announced.
“For those guys you just want to see what their recovery is like after the Giro. You can judge where they’re at after a little break."
One rider who has impressed during the Dauphiné is Ian Boswell, with the third year American professional turning in impressive performances in the team time trial and in the mountains. With no Grand Tour experience under his belt it’s unlikely but not impossible that he will be added to the Tour team. A more likely situation, said Braislford is that the rider takes a break during July before building up for the Vuelta a España.
“He’s super, is Ian. First and foremost he’s a credit to himself. He’s a super professional and very likeable. He took a first year of finding out what Europe is like, then spent last year trying to figure out how to move forward. Then at the end of last year we told him that certain elements were needed if he wanted to progress. He’s a really big talent but the question was how he was going to develop that.”
“We saw the real Ian at the Tour of California and again here. He’s never ridden a Grand Tour but it’s exciting to see. I think he’s going to go to the Vuelta this year as part of his development.”
New arrivals and departures
While the Tour is on the immediate horizon, Brailsford, like the rest of the team bosses at WorldTour level, is hastily putting plans and rosters together for 2016. Team Sky have been linked with virtually every rider with a passport and bike in recent weeks, but that’s not surprising given their impressive budget and the fact that only around half of the current crop have deals for next year. Kwiatkowski has reportedly already signed but even if that were true Brailford would not and could not comment, while Mikel Landa, a returning Rigoberto Uran and even Mark Cavendish have all been speculated as targets.
“We’ve got a team of 43 according next year according to some,” Brailsford joked.
“Seriously though, we’ve got twelve under contract for next year. Although we’ve not finalised a few others, they’ll be confirmed in the next few days.”
Those ‘others’ include Peter Kennaugh, a rider who had been linked with BMC last month. “On Pete I think it’s about ironing out the final details.”
As for Cavendish, who rode for one season in 2012 before leaving for QuickStep, Brailsford politely and diplomatically said: “Everything is possible. Mark is a great rider and he’s a big name. He’s a fantastic British rider and while nothing is being discussed he seems happy winning races and they’ll be happy to keep him at Etixx. Who knows about the future.” At this stage it still looks as though Cavendish will remain where he is with Patrick Lefevere set to make an offer during the Tour de France.
And as for Porte: “With Richie we’re just out of the Giro. He’s been a fantastic rider for us and it would be great if he could stay with us but ultimately he’s got an opportunity to look at other offers, as they all do, and it’s in that process at the minute. It would be great to keep him but I’m not commenting more than that.”