2014 Report card: Team Sky

Team Sky 2014 report card
WorldTour ranking: ninth (down from second)
Win count: 26 (down from 35)
Top riders: Christopher Froome (7th), Geraint Thomas (31st), Mikel Nieve (51st)

For nearly any other team in the professional peloton, 26 victories would be deemed as a sign of a successful season but for a squad as well resourced and funded as Team Sky, 2014 was a disappointing campaign, littered with crashes, injuries and set-backs.

It was a year in which the team struggled to gain a foothold early on in the season as their main rivals at Astana, Tinkoff-Saxo and Movistar leapfrogged their thin blue line of defence and waved away their air of stage racing superiority.

There were flickering moments of success: Froome still came away with two stage races in Oman and Romandie, as well second at the Vuelta a Espana, arguably the most exciting Grand Tour of the season. Both Peter Kennaugh and Geraint Thomas also improved their palmares and Bradley Wiggins bounced back from his difficult 2013 season to win the Tour of California. However at the Tour de France - a race where Team Sky focus so much of their ambition and face the greatest scrutiny - the team’s flaws in strategy and the minute margins between winning and losing were microscopically exposed. No Grand Tour stage wins throughout the entire season was their worst return since their creation.

In the Classics Team Sky took significant steps forward but once again failed to find the right recipe in the Monuments. Ian Stannard beat Greg Van Avermaet in a genuinely exciting edition of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Ben Swift started the season with a bang and finished on the podium in Milan-San Remo, while in Paris-Roubaix, Bradley Wiggins and Geraint Thomas flew the flag admirably.

Wiggins seemed to rediscover and almost redefine himself as a rider with a measured win in the Tour of California and a classy display at the Worlds in Ponferrada that knocked Tony Martin well and truly off his perch. And for a team criticised for not doing enough to develop UK talent [Brian Cookson’s words, not ours] – it’s worth noting that all but four of the team’s wins came from riders registered with British licenses.

However that stat may offer scant consolation for a team that won back-to-back editions of the Tour de France in 2012 and 2013, who set the bar so high with the blend of margin gains and maximum superiority, and who entered this year with genuine ambitions of winning the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France.

2014 was perhaps a season in which Team Sky never really got going, and where each step forward, whether it was Froome’s recovery from a back injury, Porte’s return to form in the first week of the Tour, Henao’s clearance to race after unusual blood values, was always met with another unpredictable obstacle. For Froome it was his Dauphine crash – a fall that seemed to rob him of his form and confidence even before he reached the cobbles of the Tour. For Porte it was pneumonia and for Henao, a serious crash.

Froome's season - until his impressive ride at the Vuelta - seemed to be wrapped in this perpetual cycle of injury, bad luck, questioning and progression. The distractions included a book release, the ethical, rather than the legal debates over his use of a TUE at the Tour de Romandie, a puff on an inhaler and the niggling shadow of Wiggins’s role as the British rider slowly moved back to the track.

The brightest moments for the team came from the cameo stars. Peter Kennaugh may have missed out on a Tour de France spot but he channelled form and finesse into a win at the Tour of Austria in July. An earlier win at the Settimana Coppi & Bartali and the British national road title resulted in his finest season since turning professional.

Swift bounced back from an injury-hit 2013 to win a hilly stage in the Tour of the Basque Country and finished in the top ten on over twenty separate occasions. Thomas showed his all-round abilities with consistent displays right through the spring and but for crashes could have walked away with more success. His stage victory and overall win at the Bayern Rundfhart stage race, was his first since a stage in the 2013 Tour Down Under and he followed up with an impressive lone victory in the Commonwealth Games road race.

Six signings for 2015

What to expect in 2015: After showing Edvald Boasson Hagen the door, Team Sky has bolstered their stage racing capabilities with the signings of Nicolas Roche, Leopold Konig, and Wouter Poels. Lars Petter Nordhaug, Elia Viviani and Andrew Fenn also joined but the bulk of the new brigade screams of stage racing support – an area in which Team have been found wanting since their ambitions spread to targeting multiple Grand Tours a season. Whether Konig and Poels are immediately elevated to leadership roles in any significant races remains to be seen, and much depends on responsibility placed on Porte’s shoulders – a rider who still has the necessary promise to deliver a Grand Tour podium spot.

Froome – whether he targets the Giro or the Tour - will remain the man to beat and having seen Alberto Contador bounce back from a tough 2013, there’s no reason to suggest that Froome cannot do the same.

In the Classics the team are possibly weaker without Boasson Hagen but the counter to that argument is that his departure provides more opportunity and equally more protection for the likes of Thomas, Stannard, Swift and Wiggins.

Thomas’ desire to target week-long stage races should see him compete regularly and successfully events such as Paris-Nice, Eneco and the Tour of Britain and his ambitions to dovetail those targets with a development Grand Tour programme could be fascinating to follow.

Since the departure of Mark Cavendish Team Sky has lacked an out-and-out sprinter but if Fenn can rediscover his form he could prove to be a rider to watch in the opening months of the campaign in a number of the Belgian one-day races. Team Sky can also count on Swift and new signing Elia Viviani. The Italian mixes a track and road programme but the trio could combine to create an efficient lead out train and take turns to be the protected sprinter.

Best signing: A number of teams tried to secure the services of Konig but Team Sky’s prowess in the transfer market saw the Czech rider join on a two-year contract. Whether the rider can make the move from big fish in a small pond remains to be seen but with two top ten finishes in Grand Tours already under his belt, he could well prove to be signing of the season in the WorldTour, let alone at Team Sky. He seems like the archetypical Sky signing.

Biggest loss: The departure of Edvald Boasson Hagen draws to an end a rather underwhelming spell for the Norwegian. There have been notable successes but when he moved to Team Sky at the start of 2010 almost anything seemed possible. Although he has failed to progress into the rider many expected, Boasson Hagen’s departure remains a solemn reminder of how even dream moves can turn sour.

Man to watch: Despite his age and reduced racing programme Bradley Wiggins remains the team’s talisman, especially in the consciousness of the all-important British public. He draws in casual fans like Andy Murray does for Wimbledon and although his age and Tour stature have moved on, Wiggins is still box office material. To boil it down, his two biggest moments of 2014 were his display at the Worlds and his breaking rank to go on the BBC to declare he wouldn’t ride the Tour. Both were individualist moments of flair and both engaged the British public. His aim to win Paris-Roubaix is very much central to his season’s objectives, while the shift back to the track and mid-season exit from Team Sky could be one of the most fascinating stories of next season.

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