Team Sky team manager Dave Brailsford has pointed out that his squad’s strong performance in the Vuelta’s first few stages shows that the British team is not resting on their laurels after winning the Tour de France.
Chris Froome has started his bid to add the Vuelta a España to his Tour de France victory with top ten places in the uphill finishes and is currently ninth overall, Nicolas Roche has had two near-misses on stages and is lying third overall.
“The danger of having too successful a Tour is that the [collective] mindset gets too relaxed,” the Team Sky boss told Cyclingnews as the sun beat down on the start of stage five in the coastal town of Rota.
“Credit to everybody here, they’ve done a fantastic job of coming here with real intent. It’s fantastic that Chris and G [Geraint Thomas] have come here with a real sense of determination.”
“As far as the race has gone so far, we’re very happy with how it’s gone. The team is riding cohesively, it’s riding well and with a real sense of purpose.”
Froome, Thomas and Nicolas Roche are all taking part in their second Grand Tour in three months, with Brailsford emphasising that it is hard to forecast how the Vuelta will develop for Team Sky.
“It’s hard to predict what will happen in this race because we just don’t know. We’ll just give it 100% every day and see where we get. It really is a case of day by day.”
Roche has shone as the brightest of all Team Sky’s top contenders so far and is, Brailsford says “obviously in super shape. He’s going really well. He’s targeted this all year and he considers himself a bit of a master at managing the time between the Tour and the Vuelta.”
In 2013, during one of his best years, Roche turned in a memorably strong performance in the Spanish Grand Tour. After riding the Tour for his then team leader Alberto Contador, Roche took a first week mountain top stage win at the Vuelta, followed by a brief spell in the lead and a fifth place overall in Madrid. This year, he has been on the attack both at Caminito del Rey and again in Vejer de la Frontera, and is currently third overall.
“He’s very, very motivated and has so far ridden very well, and hopefully that’ll continue.”
Friday the first reference point
Although Brailsford is cautious about making too many predictions on what has happened so far and argues that Friday’s summit finish in the Alpujarras will be the first reference point in this year's fight for overall victory in the Vuelta.
“You can see from the top ten, 15 on general classification where the results are going to come from, ultimately. However I don’t think you can read too much into it in terms of the overall race and where we’re at. It’s a bit too much to start extrapolating out of what we’ve seen so far. Friday’s different though, it’s a very different kind of climb”- nearly 20 kilometres long, albeit with some completely flat segments mid-way through - “and will give us an early indication of where we’re at.”
“It’s hard to say where he (Froome) is now. Backing up one Grand Tour with another is never easy, particularly when you had to go as deep as he did, so that’s going to have an impact for sure. But what kind of impact it is - we’ll just have to wait and see. What we do know about Chris is whatever he’s got, he’ll give it 100 percent.”
Brailsford said he had no comment to make on reports in today’s l’Equipe that Mikel Landa had signed for Team Sky and that the Basque would be given team leadership in the Giro d’Italia. He also was equally tightlipped about Vincenzo Nibali’s expulsion from the Vuelta.
As for Froome’s rivals who are still in the race, Brailsford said: “For those who have been in the Tour, it’s a bit of an unknown quantity. So I don’t think we can make the same assumptions and extrapolate too much because everybody’s coming at it at different levels, with different levels of fatigue, and so I think we’ll just have to sit it out, wait without predicting too much.”
History, in any case, is on Froome’s side in the Vuelta, with a second, a fourth and a second place in his only three performances in the Spanish Grand Tour.
“The climbs here suit him, he’s always done well here and he enjoys it. He copes well with the heat, which is always a factor in this race and normally he’s ridden good time trials here, too. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t do well but we’ll just take it day by day and see where we get to.”
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, 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. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The Independent, The Guardian, ProCycling, The Express and Reuters.