Watching the closing kilometres of stage five into Saint-Quentin, there was little doubt that Sky had altered their tactical approach for stage finishes as the whole team lined up on the front of the bunch. Following the stage, team boss Dave Brailsford revealed that in their pre-stage briefing the riders had decided to ride with greater commitment and intent to defend the interests of both Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins.
"If you're not at the front you run the risk not only of crashing but also of losing time if you're caught behind a crash. After the crashes yesterday, we had a good talk this morning as a team and really coordinated everything. We decided to take it on from 30k out and really ride hard," Brailsford explained. "Keeping out of trouble was the objective as well as getting Mark into the front of the race for the last kilometre."
Brailsford praised his riders for a "fantastic" performance that enabled all of them to avoid the crash in the peloton just inside the 3km banner. "I think the guys rode with real commitment and intent today and that's what you've got to do if you're going to win the biggest bike race in the world," said Brailsford.
"We know that the safest place for Brad is at the front and for him to do 500m on the front on a stage like that doesn't take that much out of him. It's a good thing to do, it's a safe thing and I think we did it with way more accuracy than we have done in the last couple of days. We're getting closer to the mountains and it's time to say, ‘Okay guys, let's commit to the front of this race.' And that's what we did."
Brailsford didn't agree with a suggestion that Cavendish's fifth place in the bunch sprint indicated that the uphill didn't suit him. "I think he was still carrying the effects of the crash from yesterday and that he came from a little bit too far back. I think he left himself with a little bit too much to do at the end," Brailsford said.
"Mark was still carrying his injuries from yesterday, so you've got to cut him a bit of slack. The fact he was up there in the first place was quite remarkable. The important thing for him was to get straight back on the bike, as he always does. When you see a guy hit the deck at 60k an hour and then come fifth today you can't call that a missed opportunity. I think you can call that guts and determination."
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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