Team Sky management face a few difficult choices in deciding who to include in their 2015 Tour de France line-up as you almost need two separate entities, one type of rider to cover the start and the others to do the second mostly uphill remainder.
The particulars of this year's route mean that squads with GC ambitions have to look at the mountainous third week and then work out who'll be the best riders to support their chosen leader on the big climbing stages. The relative lack of flat time trials means more than ever that the overall will be won and lost in the Pyrenees and Alps but first of all they have to get to that point in good working order.
Racing in the north of France and especially in Holland and Belgian requires a whole skillset in itself. Every corner is a fight for position, every town an obstacle course, so just surviving unscathed before the return to French soil will be a major achievement and for those not used to it, like Chris Froome, it'll be a proper worry. Throw in the cobbled sectors from Paris-Roubaix and the prospect of some side-wind action now and then, and nerves will be frayed if not skin lost.
Amongst the favourites for the overall win Vincenzo Nibali will be OK, as he proved last year and Alberto Contador knows how to get his team around him to limit his losses. Nairo Quintana is in roughly the same category as Froome but he handles wet weather and slippy descents better and he's pushed himself in a few Belgian races to see how he fares. The Sky number one definitely looks the most suspect of the big four as far as the opening stages are concerned.
Hardly noted for his bike handling prowess or avoidance of problems, the 2013 champion will be needing dedicated minders around him on every stage that is above Paris – and given his previous showings, the more the merrier.
That's where what I'll call the A-squad of Geraint Thomas, Luke Rowe, Ian Stannard and Danny Pate will be expected to look after him. Since the first three made up the core of Sky's spring campaign they are more than strong enough to close or open gaps if needs be. Add in Pate for some extra experience and horse power, and that ought to cover most flatland situations. With Thomas now crossing over into the climbing group, he needs to be saved as much as possible for the work he can do in the third week, so he'll saved for emergencies, desperate situations and guiding Froome in the difficult finales.
The B-squad of Wout Poels, Richie Porte, Sergio Henao and Pete Kennaugh will have to look after themselves as best they can, with the Colombian climber being the most vulnerable to losing time when it gets dodgy but that hardly matters as his job really starts from Vannes onwards. They are all fairly solid athletes so if they do bounce down the road they ought to get back up again and still be in a reasonable state.
The big mountains are where it ought to decided, though, and with Astana now setting the bar at having five riders in the first group on mountain stages, Sky need to be able to match that to the same degree. With Porte, Poels, Henao and Thomas supporting Chris Froome, and possibly Kennaugh not far behind, they ought to match the Kazakhstani squad in the final week and hopefully better them if everyone is in form.
Which brings me to how the selections have been made from the leaked eleven names and how the guys who rode the Giro, except for Richie Porte, have been dropped. Nieve wasn't that convincing. König may have had a case for doubling up but with Geraint Thomas's result in Switzerland why take the risk and Bernie Eisel's been replaced by Luke Rowe who climbs better.
Nicolas Roche hasn't reached his best level this season and Philip Deignan might have had a chance but Kennaugh ought to last longer on the climbs.
Does Richie Porte deserve a second Grand Tour start? Well yes, I think he does despite his Giro disasters. He's been there for both Sky's Tour successes and been pivotal in each of them though sentiment hasn't been one of Dave Brailsford's strong points when it comes to making selections for the Tour. Porte will have been hurt by the experiences in Italy and that might be no bad thing as Australians tend not to like disappointments. I think he'll be fired up to more than ever to prove his place is merited. And anyway, now that the RV idea is out the window, someone is going to have to share with Froomey.
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