Everyone expected Sky and Wiggins to be present at the 2012 Tour, the lead-up to the year's most important race suggested that was going to happen. What wasn't expected was the utter domination that they exercised over the three weeks in France. Normally at least one other outfit goes head-to-head with the leader's team but from the moment Wiggins took control at La Planche des Belles Filles, Sky looked untroubled. Normally the other GC contenders put the big favourite in trouble at least once but again it didn't really happen, certainly not in the way that we ought to have seen if it was going to be a tight decision.
Despite the loss of Siutsou the first week Wiggins' team adapted and used Boasson Hagen more than they had planned to. Once the hills arrived it really was no contest, Porte, Rogers and ultimately Froome applied enough pressure to keep everything under control. Evans wasn't in the same shape as last year and Nibali did what he could to add some interest but when the pace is so fast it almost seemed a token gesture. Van den Broeck lost too much time with bad luck and poor time trials and the other top tenners were hanging mostly content to make the selection but not capable of doing it every day. For someone riding their first Tour at the age of 22, Thibaut Pinot provided promise. Outside of Evans and Nibali he was the only one in the top of the GC who looked like he was thinking about racing and not calculating what he could cling onto.
The hard work had been done before Wiggins arrived at the TdF, the so-called preparation stage races had all been controlled and directed as his team wished and in doing that, they had got used to being in that position. It wasn't a worry. There were doubts they could apply the same techniques to the Tour but the organisation at Sky had thought, measured, studied and highlighted what was needed and they had found the answers. Crucially, they had applied those answers to everyone in the team and not just their GC riders so there were no weak links amongst the team on the road. The warm downs after the stages, the ice baths, the details in nutrition and hydration were done for each individual so no one had a really bad day. Sure, they had difficult stages but they recovered and were ready again the next day.
Everything about the choice of equipment, clothing, helmets, skinsuits, wheels looked well thought-out and presented. The question over whether Mark Cavendish could cope with no lead-out train and only one main helper in Bernie Eisel was answered when he won his first stage by using the other teams.Then they had him also helping when he had to in the hilly stages and doing it with humility As a unit Sky was solid, BMC and Liquigas were close but not close enough, the remaining teams knew they had different interests and didn't get involved in the overall fight, concentrating on stages instead.
Probably the most surprising part of the success story has been the emergence of the talent that is Chris Froome, but that's the obvious choice. More subtle has been the return of Richie Porte to the decision-making times of bike races after suffering a period in the doldrums. The analytical approach that Sky uses, as well as better athlete management, has certainly suited him. Michael Rogers has also benefited since his change to the Brit team, he looks like he is enjoying his racing again. If you looked at Bradley Wiggins he wasn't as thin as the previous year, there was more muscle and more solidity to him as an athlete. He looked more like he could deal with the demands (and if necessary the setbacks) that he might encounter. The readiness of the climbing core of the team was one important thing but equally impressive was the performances of the other guys. Being able to ride tempo for hundreds of kilometres and never really being in trouble must have taken a serious amount of work.
From the moment the race left Liège it was clear that Sky as a team had come with one mission, that of putting Bradley Wiggins on the top of the podium by the time they got to Paris. If there had been anything other than that plan then Froome's puncture near the end on day one would have signalled it, but there wasn't and he was left to fend for himself whilst the others looked after number 101. Admittedly it took a few stages before the cocoon around Wiggins was perfected but from then on each rider had his role and they stuck to it. Things seemed to get a bit confused a couple of times with Froome on the mountain finishes and though he was quickly brought back to heel by the team radio a slight hesitation was noted. How his actions were processed by us observers proved to be quite interesting and subject to much debate but everyone was back on message soon enough.
So from here the future holds a number of possibilities for Wiggins and Co. He can continue with what he is doing and come to the 100th edition of the Tour next year looking to defend the title. As it's likely to be a highly traditional one with more mountains and less time trials Sky has the choice of either adapting Bradley Wiggins' training again to suit those demands or going with Chris Froome's apparently better climbing skills if the race contains the right ingredients. Their young Colombians may also want to be considered if it is a mountainous Tour. Immediately, though, there's the Olympic road race and the gold medal prospects of Mark Cavendish to deal with.
There'll need to be a few meetings to sort out where Sky's objectives lie next. There are a lot of talented bike riders and staff at the team and those egos need to be massaged. Wiggins as Tour champion has the right to defend that title but Froome may want his chance. Then again, Cavendish will want more than one green jersey in his collection and what about the young riders coming through, the Colombians, guys like Geraint Thomas. Like vultures circling, the other ProTour teams will be more than willing to step in with lucrative offers. They all know they need to build up their squads and historically the best team has always had difficulty keeping its riders. So there's some careful negotiations going to be happening to see who gets what and who makes the sacrifices.
Robert Millar was one of the last pure climbers of the Tour de France, winning several stages in the mountain stages and finishing fourth overall in 1984. He is also the only English speaker to have ever won the prestigious polka-dot jersey climber's competition jersey.
Millar retired in 1995 but has continued to follow the sport closely. He was often critical of the media and quickly cuts through the excuses and spin to understand why and how riders win and lose.
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