Dave Brailsford believes Sky’s opening victory in the Vuelta a España provides the perfect launchpad for Chris Froome and his team in the upcoming three weeks of racing, which the Sky director warns could prove “mentally a lot tougher” than the Tour de France.
“We couldn’t get off to a better start, I’m really happy,” Brailsford told Cyclingnews. “Everyone comes into the Vuelta from different kinds of angles, some people have focused directly on it, others have come in from Rio, so there’s always a bit of a question mark as to where everybody’s at.
“Obviously we’ve got some very good team time triallists in the team, but it’s all about putting it together. I don’t know why, but occasionally we can do some brilliant team time trials, occasionally we’re pretty wide of the mark, we’ve got a pretty big bandwidth. So it’s just a fantastic way to get off to a great start and bring the lads together.”
In terms of individual Sky riders, Brailsford was particularly satisfied for race leader “Pete Kennaugh. “He’s put a really consistent block of training together. He’s worked really hard and it’s nice to see him back at that level, he was one of the driving forces,” Brailsford said.
“It was nice to see Michal Kwiatkowski driving it there, too, and Froomey’s come back from Rio and hit the ground running, so I’m very happy about that.”
With three weeks of hard racing to come and an overall leader’s jersey already in the team, Sky will have to think hard about how best to play out their early overall strategy. In the short-term, Sunday’s flatter stage – though ‘flat’ is a relative term in the very hilly region of Galicia, and there are over 2,000 metres of vertical climbing on the stage – will be followed by Monday’s first uphill finish, the short but steep ascent to Ezaro, with sections at 30 percent.
Brailsford felt that the early victory represented a big boost for Froome at the start of the Vuelta, given that, even among the top riders, there is a considerable degree of uncertainty regarding form at this point in the season.
“For Chris it’s a super way to start, because he’s going to have to ride himself into this race. You come into the Tour, pinging, you come into the Vuelta and you’re not sure. That’s how most people are, so there’s no point comparing how you ride the Tour to the Vuelta. You’ve got to find your way,” Brailsford said.
“It’s a different thing, you’ve got to have a different strategy in mind. Normally, you’re going to have to grind it out for the first week or so and then you’ll know whether you’re going to lift or drop in the second part. It’s mentally a lot tougher.
“What you can’t control at this moment at time is what’s going to happen with your form and your fatigue. What you can control is your application, so he can control that. Even if, say, it’s 80 percent, you can give 100 percent of 80 percent, so it’s about giving 100 percent and we’ll take what we can take.”
For now, in Sky’s case, that approach to the race has netted them the leader’s jersey on Pete Kennaugh’s shoulders, a team time trial stage win, and put Froome 52 seconds clear of Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) – though Movistar’s Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde are locked on the same time as him. With the curtain only just lifting on the Vuelta’s three weeks of racing, it’s a starting point that any GC contender and his team would take without hesitation.