Mikel Nieve (Team Sky) was one of Chris Froome's most important allies this season. The Basque rider supported him in his abortive bid at the Tour de France and helped him to second at the Vuelta a España just over a month later. Nieve was by his side through the ups and downs this year, and is confident that his team leader will be back to his 2013 Tour winning form for 2015.
"I think he can return to that level. This year, if he has not been at his best it is because he has not had any luck - he crashed, he was sick," Nieve told the Biciciclismo website. "I saw him training before the Tour, and the truth is that he was at a very high level. I think you can expect him to target victory at any race.
"In the Vuelta, Froome showed that if it were not for the time lost in the time trial we would have been closer to Contador."
This year was not an easy one for Team Sky as a whole, as injuries and illness sidelined a number of important riders throughout the early part of the season. Froome's own Tour preparations were damaged when he crashed during the Dauphiné. However, Nieve was able to save the race for Sky by taking victory on the final stage. The Spaniard would be left to pick up the pieces once again at the Tour.
Nieve was snapped up by Team Sky at the end of last season when Euskaltel-Euskadi were forced to fold, as his climbing skills and performances over three weeks made him a fit for their Grand Tour team. He lived up the expectations, and more, in 2014 and was the team's best finisher at the Tour. The French race is the only of the three-week races where he is yet to win a stage. While Nieve admitted that he would love to add a Grand Boucle stage to his palmarès, he says that it isn't going to dominate his plans.
"It's the dream. The Tour is the biggest race and it is very difficult to win there, but it is not a goal. I do not obsess. If the opportunity comes, I will try to take advantage," he explained. "My place is in the Grand Tours and to assist in the mountains but the goal is also to improve and to try and grow in all areas. I am keen to progress and if I can win another race like this year then that is better.”
Moving from Euskaltel to Sky has been a steep learning curve for Nieve, due to changes in the style of racing, the mix of nationalities and the training regimen. After a year with the British squad, Nieve is pleased with his decision to move to the team. "I'm very happy. Personally, I feel very safe,” he said.
"The team has confidence in me and my teammates are very open. Athletically, I've tried to do the maximum. I think I've been pretty consistent and I have been able to reach a good level. The team congratulated me on the Tour and the Vuelta, but they do it with everyone; they highly value the effort of each rider."
One of the most difficult parts of the move has been adjusting to the team's intensive training camps. "It's hard to stay focused and spend two weeks away from the world, but then you see the results. I think the sacrifice is worth making."