Dave Brailsford has predicted that the 2013 Tour de France will be won by limiting mistakes rather than making one spectacular attack on a key stage.
The Team Sky manager is known for his analytical and scientific approach to racing and as the riders count down to the hours to the start of this year's race, he is confident that in Chris Froome, he has the man to win the Tour de France for a second consecutive time.
He insisted that Bradley Wiggins will be missed in the team but refuted any speculation that Wiggins was not selected for any other reason except his knee injury.
"Rather than going out and thinking you have to do something spectacular to win this race, it's more likely that you've got to make the least errors if you want to win," Brailsford said after a packed pre-race Team Sky press conference that included a slightly tense moment with former rider and stanch anti-doping journalist Paul Kimmage.
"We've got great riders and if they do what they're capable of doing, we're going to be in the mix. So it's about making the least mistakes. That will give us the platform to perform in this year's race"
This year's far tougher route and the determination of other teams to take the race to Team Sky has set up a thrilling 100th edition of the Tour de France, which is expected to be decided in the mountains. Brailsford said he is ready for a more aggressive race.
"Maybe we've changed our tactics, too," he suggested. "We've got different riders, different capabilities and you base your tactics on what you have. What we have this year is very different to what we had last year. I think we'll surprise a few people with what we have planned."
"Every Tour is different, you start from zero, you start from scratch. It'd a different course, different riders and so it's all to play for. I think it's important to consider the readiness, the readiness to race and how fresh Chris is. Also the strengths that he has for the nature of the event this year. I think Chris is in an ideal place this year, along with the strength and the strength of the team to take on the race."
Brailsford said Team Sky selected a versatile squad suited to racing hard in the mountains.
"We debated the line-up for a long time. There are physical capabilities in the team for sure but you could question the experience. We feel it's the right team," he said.
"It was tough to leave out Eisel or Knees but we're looking for versatility. The likelihood of losing a rider in this race is very high. We don't know who and when but we hope to still cover the key elements of the race, and this year, we consider that to be climbing."
Better off without Wiggo?
Brailsford refused to accept that Team Sky is perhaps a better or more focused team without the distractions of an internal leadership battle between Froome and Wiggins.
"I don't buy that. The guy's a professional and with his engine, he'd be a loss to any team. There's simply a risk selecting a rider who is not 100% fit," he said.
"A lot of people in sport misinterpret team harmony. The best teams never have team harmony, they have goal harmony. That's what it's all about. It's an aggressive environment sometimes. But when push comes to shove, everyone lines up behind the goal."
"It's a shame for Bradley personally, it's a shame for the race and it's a shame for everybody. But when you're injured, you're injured. There's no intervention on what we could do, the cards were played for us. Everything else is just speculation."
He said that Wiggins would remain at Team Sky for 2014 and soon hopes to extend Froome's contract beyond next year and build Team Sky's Grand Tour hopes around the Kenyan-born Briton.
"He's got another year on his contract but it doesn't take a genius to work out that he's one of potential riders to be competitive in this race for years to come He's developed in Team Sky and so we'll be doing everything we can to keep him for the long term," Brailsford said.
A clash with Kimmage
Brailsford exchanged barbs with Paul Kimmage during the Team Sky press conference, with signs that the relationship between Team Sky and the Tour de France media could again be difficult.
Kimmage asked why Edvald Boasson had not developed into a Tour de France team leader under Brailsford's management at Team Sky, and asked why the team had instead brought in Froome.
Brailsford response was direct, while Boasson Hagen and the other Team Sky riders looked embarrassed and slightly offended for their teammate.
"It's called talent," Brailsford replied.
"So what's happened to Boasson Hagen's talent?" Kimmage asked.
"I'm not sure what you're asking?" Brailsford replied.
Kimmage said, "Boasson Hagen hasn't progressed under your management."
Brailsford replied, "That's your opinion. Everyone is entitled to make an opinion. But it's not my opinion."
Love for the Tour de France
Despite a long series of doping scandals, Brailsford said that his love for the Tour de France still burns strong. He used a question about his thoughts on the race to reiterate that Team Sky races clean.
"People still love the Tour de France, despite everything that has happened. When something takes a lot of hits and still keep on going, it shows its got resilience," he said.
"I know from our perspective what we do and I know that we're clean. And if people believe us or not, I know what we're doing. It gives me great satisfaction and enthusiasm for the future of the Tour de France, particularly for this new young generation of riders that is coming through now, that the long term of this race and this sport looks healthy."
"Now were seeing guys racing hard in January and then maintaining that and building on that form. I think there's a slight mentality shift. I think that is what you'd expect if you're doing it properly. I'm glad to see it. It may take some of the romanticism away from it but if you want to win, you've got to be serious."
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