Team Sky's Dave Brailsford has argued that Mikel Landa's surprise attack in the closing kilometres of the Giro d'Italia's stage 8 "follows on from what we've been doing recently in the Tour de France" - and could herald a more attacking style for the coming Grand Tours.
In last year's Tour de France, Chris Froome's surprise downhill attack in the Pyrenees and his decision to join Peter Sagan in an attack in the finale of a second-week transition stage were unpredictable, and successful ingredients of the Briton's final victory in the race. And according to Brailsford, there are some parallels between that kind of move and Landa's attempt to ambush the opposition on the road to Peschici.
"With the two riders here in the Giro that we've got as leaders, you can do what everybody expects you to do or you can try and animate things a little bit," Brailsford told reporters as he stood outside the Team Sky bus near the finish.
"I think if we're serious about taking the race on, in the last two years [in the Tour] we've tried to animate the race a bit more and it's paid dividends. You've not always sure it's going to work, but that's racing."
"So I think it's in keeping with what we've been doing in the last few Tours de France."
Brailsford argued that an unexpected attack like Landa's has to be encouraged as a strategy. "It'll keep the other teams guessing and I think in a race like this one, you have to use everything you have, given the level of the opposition. Guys like Nairo [Quintana] and Vincenzo [Nibali] they're going to take some beating.
"And so you look at what you've got in your team and how best to use those weapons. Being unpredictable, the element of surprise is something we can use to our advantage. However, you can't do it when you're sitting on the bus watching the race on TV or when you're in the team car, it's up to the guys to improvise and feel it and communicate, and hopefully, they'll keep on with that."
Trying such strategies was not always straightforward in the Giro d'Italia, he observed because "You've got to be careful with the profiles of the race books, particularly in Italy, as we've learned over the last few years to our disadvantage. You see it in Tirreno, but more so down here [in southern Italy], these types of finishes and the actual difficulty of the race, the actual physical effort of the race [is high] because the roads are grippy, twisting and turning, with steep little climbs."
What makes it even harder, Brailsford pointed out, "is when they've been riding at a single pace for hours and hours in a single gear, then all of a sudden things change", as was the case two days ago on stage 6, with the previous uphill finish at Terme Luigiane.
Landa "an interesting character on and off the bike"
48 hours later, Landa's move did not bring concrete results, but it did remind cycling fans of how much of a non-conformist, in a good sense, the Spaniard can be, and of Sky's changing attitude to Grand Tours. Landa's attack also allowed questions about what kind of person Sky's co-leader for the Giro is actually like to be raised again. "He likes his architecture, his design and his arts, and he's a cultured, bright guy, as well as certainly having the Basque passion for cycling and thinking about it a lot," Brailsford said.
"He's got that flair, he's a very colourful type of racer and I think that suits his physical abilities. If he sees an opportunity, he'll take it. He'll go for that long break, he's a super climber; when he needs to be he's a fantastic teammate and when he needs to be he can take it on as a leader. All round he's an interesting character on and off the bike."
Having two leaders, he emphasised was another one of Team Sky's strengths, because "they've got complementary racing styles and we're going to use that. It just sets the scene for things to come and it's one of our strengths. That and taking people by surprise a bit more, too, which is more fun, too - it feels like racing, and taking the race to the opposition."
Rather than looking at the Blockhaus stage as a stand-alone test Brailsford says Sky are treating the three upcoming days of racing as a single block of challenges. "On Sunday we'll see where we're at, but getting the rest day right is a really important step before we get into the time trial. I think the race is really starting to liven up now."
As for the Blockhaus itself, Brailsford is keeping Sky's cards to his chest saying "we've got a team with different options and part of our strategy will be to keep the opposition guessing. Both of our riders are more suited to a stiffer, more challenging climb like the Blockhaus, and it'll depend, then, if it's paced or raced. But we've got options for both."
Stage 8 highlights
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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