Team Sky are often associated with a controlling, even stifling, style of racing, but at the Colombia Oro y Paz they were rewarded for a more inventive and aggressive approach with overall victory for Egan Bernal.
Going into the final day and its summit finish at Manizales, Bernal, along with Sergio Henao, was one of two Sky riders in the top four, less than 10 seconds behind race leader Nairo Quintana. Henao had come into the race as the team's designated leader, but Sky were willing and able to win the race with their 'Plan B'
An attack from Bernal somewhere on the 20km final climb would heap the pressure on Quintana, and so it proved as the young Colombian signing only needed one dig to open a gap to the favourites with 3km to go. With Tao Geoghegan Hart and Sebastián Henao both in the break, the tactic was predictable and the duo in turn were able to provide support all the way to the line.
"It was a great day, the team did a great job. We had the opportunity to try something and in truth, I had very good legs from the bottom of the climb and I felt good. We had the opportunity, with support from Tao and Sebas, so it all worked out perfectly," Bernal told reporters in Manizales.
"Its an important victory for many reasons. It's one of my first races with the team, it's the first race I've won with the team, and then because it's in Colombia. It's the first 2.1 race in Colombia and I've won it, so it's something special."
Team Sky directeur sportif Nico Portal said the plan had been made the night before, explaining the approach to the race.
"We had Sergio as the clear leader at the beginning. Everyone knows Egan is becoming one of the best riders in the world, and we wanted to protect him first, and he was happy to be the back-up. Until stage 5, the plan was to support Sergio then for Egan he can learn," Portal told Cyclingnews in Manizales.
"Today was different. We weren't leading and we wanted to put the weight of the race onto Movistar. Then Sergio and Egan are both equal. The race was far from over and it was the perfect time to say 'ok now we change our strategy and we become more aggressive'.
"At the bottom of the climb he was like 'Nico I'm feeling really good' – meaning I want to attack – and for us it was like 'wait a little bit because if you're feeling good now you're going to feel even better in 20km. So he waited until it was really steep to make the big difference. He listened and boom. It's just fantastic what he has done."
Talented but also super smart
Portal has been with the team in Colombia for a block of training, followed by the Colombian national championships for Bernal and the Henaos, and then the Oro y Paz.
Bernal, plucked from Androni by Team Sky over the off-season, is one of the biggest talents in the sport, and Portal has already seen enough to be convinced he has the world at his feet.
"Last year, when you see what he did in the Tour of Lombardy [13th], that was incredible," said Portal. "This year already we were with him at the national time trial, and the way he won the TT, it was just a flat TT, and this little body pacing himself really well… I think he's talented but more than everything he's just listening, and he's a super smart guy.
"All the time when his coach Xabier Artxete explains the strategy for pacing, it's not just the numbers, you need to feel it as well, and he's really good at this. He's listening, always asking for strategy – how we do this.
"We have some guys where they're in the team to win, and some guys we want to develop. Probably in other teams he could be a leader in every single race but we want to give him the opportunity to work with the best, see what he can do, then when he's going to be the big, big leader he will know exactly what to expect."
As for Bernal himself, "I'm only 21 – I'm in no rush."
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Deputy Editor - Europe. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2021 he has been Deputy Editor - Europe, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.
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