Team Sky celebrated Tao Geoghegan Hart's stage win at the Tour of the Alps, with everyone happy to see the young British rider land his first professional victory and take the first leader's jersey. Team Sky has four potential leaders for the five-day race, including Chris Froome, and seem determined to win as much as possible in the countdown to the end of Team Sky and the transformation into Team Ineos on May 1 next week.
Geoghegan Hart, Froome, Kenny Elissonde and Pavel Sivakov celebrated together just beyond the finish line in Kufstein, Austria. They all finished in the select group of 21 riders that formed on the last climb and now have a numerical advantage in the four remaining stages.
"It's a super good first victory for Tao. That's a big deal for a young rider," directeur sportif Nicolas Portal explained, careful to praise all his riders.
"He raced well with Pavel in the attack and the dynamic in the team was good too. When the rest of the peloton came back, there was no need to talk, Kenny and other guys went on the front and pulled. It was our goal to be ready on day one because in this race there's no long mountain finish or time trial, so someone has to create a winning move. It's cool that they can do that."
Portal believes Geoghegan Hart can defend the cyclamen-coloured leader's jersey in the hilly stages into Italy but Sivakov, Elissonde and Froome could be alternatives in the expected aggressive racing.
"Last year Tao was brilliant in the Dauphine in a similar situation, he was the last rider there with G (Geraint Thomas) in the mountains. He's capable of climbing with the best. Stage 2 is 180km but then the other days are shorter at 130km with lots of climbing, we'll see what happens," the French directeur sportif said.
"We've got our cards. It's hard to play with just one leader here but we've got three or four guys on form."
Reciprocal respect between Froome and Geoghegan Hart
Froome finished sixth on the stage, sprinting in just behind Geoghegan Hart. He didn't go after Nibali when the Sicilian attacked, explaining he had his two young teammates to do that.
Froome's voice cracked and he coughed several times after the race but he shrugged it off as he looks to log up some extra racing miles this week as he works on his base form in view of the Tour de France.
"It sounds like my throat is closed up after an intense final but it's good to be back racing," Froome explained.
"That was good fun racing, it felt like under-23 racing at some points, just uncontrolled and no one wanted to take responsibility. But we used our numbers in the final both with Tao and Pavel in that move with Nibali and Majka over the top of that last climb. Unfortunately, that didn't stick and it came back together but it meant that our guys were at the front coming into the final few kilometres and we were able to cover all the moves.
"Tao just edged the sprint and managed to hold on to it. I'm very happy for him. Even though this event isn't a WorldTour race, it's still tough racing and not easy by any means."
Geoghegan Hart and Froome have often ridden together at training camps but the young British rider revealed that the Tour of Alps is his first race with the four-time Tour de France winner. He hopes stage 1 is a good omen for the rest of race and considers Froome a role model.
"First he's a teammate and a leader of the team, second he's a very humble and extremely down to earth person," Geoghegan Hart said post-race.
"If you sit with him at the dinner table, go training with him or interact with him, you'd never think he'd achieved what he has because he treats everyone with equal respect. Told he told me and Pavel (Sivakov) to take the opportunity. He doesn't demand that people work for him and he's happy for us to have our chance and was happy for me that I won.
"He works incredibly hard and it's an honour to spend a day training with him. He pushes himself past his limits. As a young guy, it's incredible to see his perseverance. He's one of the best athletes in the world."