As he waited for his riders to come back down from the summit finish at La Planche des Belles Filles, Dave Brailsford had a few minutes to reflect on his Team Sky’s success. Admitting he felt very proud of his squad, Brailsford also stressed that there is still a long way to go in the Tour and that a lot can still happen.
Asked initially about Sky’s tactic of having a group of riders driving hard on the final climb, Brailsford said that "strength in numbers" is fundamental to the team’s tactical approach. "Our guys have been riding like that for most of the season. It was a good effort to make sure Brad lost no time.
"Strength in numbers is something we’ve talked about in my short experience in this race and we’ve come prepared for that. That was the intention and that was what the team delivered," he said.
He admitted the team had been concerned about how Richie Porte would perform after he crashed three times in Friday’s sixth stage, and was delighted with the way the Australian bounced back. "You’re never quite sure how someone is going to recover. But Richie was very good. Then Chris Froome took it on. At the Vuelta last year everyone was thinking, ‘Where’s this guy come from?’ I think he showed today that he can back it up and I think today he showed that he’s one of the best climbers in the peloton right now," Brailsford said.
He also paid tribute to world champion Mark Cavendish’s contribution during the stage. "It’s been a tough week for Mark Cavendish and I think he deserves a special mention and some real credit," said Brailsford. "He’s the world champion, he’s won a lot of stages here, and it hasn’t quite gone his way. He’s crashed and punctured, but he’s been a really good teammate. He came back to the car and got bottles for Brad and the rest of the team all day, and that’s the mark of a real world champion. In that respect, that’s what the team needs, a real unity."
Brailsford explained that, as they have shown at many other races this season, Sky came to the Tour de France with a plan, but admitted that executing is very different, particularly at the world’s biggest bike race. "While lots of our riders have ridden the Tour, what we have got experience of is the Olympic Games. What we know about the Olympics is that it’s a big stage, but if you start treating it any differently to any other event you’re going to get into trouble.
"For us, this is another bike race and we’re going to keep on doing what we normally do, not do anything different because it’s called the Tour de France. I think that’s really important, but there’s a long way to go and a lot can happen in this sport," he said.
Brailsford acknowledged that it was a great day for the team, one that had made him proud of everyone’s efforts. "It’s the first time Team Sky have ever worn the yellow jersey, and we’ve got Froomey in the polka dot and won the stage. So it’s a lovely day for the team and it’s nice to take five minutes to try to enjoy it for once.
"I am a proud man, particularly because of the efforts of the riders, the backroom staff and everyone who has bought into this project, and especially Sky. The first year was difficult, but they’ve stuck with us and got right behind us. So I think they should feel very proud of taking the gamble of supporting this team and I think hopefully we can pay that back."
He wouldn’t be drawn on whether Sky will defend the yellow jersey on Sunday’s tricky medium mountain stage to Porrentruy, admitting that Sky’s management team will reflect on that this evening and tomorrow morning. "For now, or at least for the next half an hour, this is as good as it gets for me. I’m going to have a nice evening tonight. You’ve got to take these moments when you can," he said with a very broad smile.
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Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).
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