Team Sky has a ‘whole different atmosphere' this year according to their Tour de France leader, Bradley Wiggins.
Wiggins finished fourth in the 2009 Tour de France while riding for Garmin-Slipstream but moved to Team Sky for their inaugural season in 2010. Despite recording over twenty wins in the season they collectively misfired at the Tour, with Geraint Thomas arguably performing to and above expectations as Wiggins finished 24th overall.
"I think we've learnt as a group and it's not about being anyone's fault it's just about the mistakes we made as a team," Wiggins told Cyclingnews at the team's camp in Mallorca, Spain.
At the start of Sky's development, team manager Dave Brailsford stated that the goal was to win the Tour de France within five years and Wiggins' signing was seen as a crucial platform to that success. However, Wiggins admitted that too much emphasis had been placed on the Tour in 2010.
"A year ago we set out on this path that we thought was right at the time but subsequently and with hindsight it wasn't. It's easy to look back and think that but at the time we were 100 per cent behind what we were doing," he said.
"We made mistakes and we'll learn from them but it's a whole different atmosphere and feeling here now. Just from where we were last year, no one has even mentioned the Tour so far this year and we've not even got that far yet. Last year it was all about winning the Tour de France."
Wiggins's relaxed demeanour stems from the new approach Team Sky have taken. The team are now more relaxed with the media and publicly less orientated around the Tour, with Wiggins believing that the mood within the camp at this stage of the season is a marked improvement from where the team were twelve months ago.
Back then the team based themselves in Valancia for a training camp. The location was apparently chosen off the back of metrological studies – it would be warm and dry, apparently. However, the camp was marred by bad weather.
This year Sky has camped out in Mallorca, a base the track squad has been using for over a decade, and the change has seen seasoned pros like Edvald Boasson Hagen, Juan Antonia Flecha and Jeremy Hunt, mix with the young track talent and academy athletes.
Wiggins himself didn't pull on any Sky kit until earlier this week, instead spending the start of the year training with the track team. Beneficial for training purposes, it's also perhaps reinvigorated him, taking him away from the spotlight and allowing him to recreate the Garmin vibe he has admitted he thrived in.
"It just feels like I'm on a British training camp to be honest. It's all the same sort of staff but it's a lot different to Valencia last year when we didn't know what the fuck was going on. No one knew each other and I'd just joined the team."
"It's the first time I've been with team as I've been training with the track squad, so it's the first time I've had my Sky gear on all season."
Kit and training locations aren't the only changes on Wiggins' agenda. This year he will alter his race programme of the last two seasons, dropping the Giro d'Italia, and racing a more traditional schedule before the Tour.
"The only thing that's different is that I won't do the Giro, everything else is pretty much a standard start to the season. I'll do the classics this year which I didn't do last year too."
During last year's Giro, Wiggins was sitting in the top ten after 14 stages, seventh in fact, but over the course of the final week he slipped back down the GC, giving up the opportunity to race for a possible top-five placing. During the first week eventual winner Ivan Basso commented privately on how strong Wiggins looked, often accelerating up and down the bunch to test his fitness. It all amounted to the behaviour of a rider looking towards the Tour and not considering his current position in the Giro to be of any importance.
"I was seventh overall with a week to go in the Giro and sat up on the Zoncolan stage in GC thinking that it would be easier for the last week but it's just as hard riding up the Gavia whether or not you're behind the leaders or not and you look back and think perhaps I should have taken chances at the Giro and tried to go top ten but that was how much Tour de France consumed us.
"It all became about the Tour whereas the year before when I was fourth in the Tour, I had no expectations of finishing fourth and was just riding things like Paris-Roubaix and all those races. I'll adopt a much more similar role this year in that sense. I was just so consumed by the Tour when in fact I was at the Giro which is a huge race in itself. Lesson learned."
This season Wiggins will aim to hit form earlier and maintain it before taking a brief rest and then focusing on the Tour. Races like the Classics, Paris-Nice and either the Dauphine or Tour de Suisse will be important races with their own targets.
"If last year had worked and we had got up there in the Tour perhaps it would have raised expectations whereas it's probably grounded us a bit and made us realise that it's not easy and that there's more to cycling than the Tour. This year though we've got such strength in the team now the new additions that we're covered right throughout the year."
So what of this year's Tour de France? Wiggins will race for yellow and will be supported by a team that's reinforced with Spanish guile in Rigoberto Uran and Xabier Zandio and the experience and work-rate of Michael Rogers. Although he says he has not to have looked at the route yet, Wiggins will run reconnaissance later this year on some of the most critical stages.
"At the end of the day you've either got the legs or you haven't, whether you've seen the route or not. I was fourth two years ago and I have to believe or try and explore that I can get back up there or surpass it. From finishing fourth I know that I can be in that ball park if I get my preparation right and even last year, having a dreadful Tour I was still 24th overall so I wasn't a million miles away."
"There's a gaggle of riders, potentially eight to ten rider who can be up there. Lance Armstrong probably won't be there, Frank Schleck will, so there's a lot of riders but I've perhaps fallen back to being an underdog which I was two years ago, so I've got to prove that I can still be up there and I prefer it when it's got to be like that. The goal is to be up there, in that gaggle."