Last year Bradley Wiggins' challenge for the Tour de France ended on the race's seventh day. Twelve months on, the Sky team leader was one of the few likely contenders for the yellow jersey to emerge unscathed from the equivalent stage into Metz. But it wasn't all good news for Sky.
Richie Porte crashed no fewer than three times, including the melee 24km from the finish that held up so many of Wiggins' rivals. Mark Cavendish escaped this pile-up but was held up by it as he was chasing back up to the bunch after puncturing.
"For three-quarters of the day it looked like everyone was trundling along and getting through the stage when all of a sudden everything changes and all hell is let loose," said Sky boss Dave Brailsford.
"When you see the likes of Hesjedal, Frank Schleck, Gesink, Bauke Mollema and Scarponi all in that group behind, you then realise the importance of spending that little bit more energy to be at the front of the bunch. It's well worthwhile. The energy you expend chasing is going to be greater than the energy you expend at the front of the bunch."
Brailsford revealed that Wiggins had only moved up to the front of the bunch three or four minutes before the crash happened. "He came up to the front with Christian [Knees] and that's one of the best moves he's made so far," said Brailsford.
Wiggins' key mountains lieutenant, Richie Porte, was less fortunate. He crashed three times on the stage, starting with a tumble in the neutral zone in Epernay. "In one way it was a bad thing, but in another he got them all out of the way. We'd like to think that's him done with the crashing now," said Brailsford.
"The main thing is he's OK. He's lost some skin off his knees and his back. It looks superficial. I don't think there will be any broken bones. I'm sure he will be fine."
The Sky boss described world champion Cavendish as "disappointed" after he missed out on the chance to get involved in today's bunch sprint. "Mark felt really good today, which is the real disappointment," said Brailsford.
He admitted that it must have been frustrating for Cavendish to puncture and find himself isolated. "I think it's hard for Mark when you've got a GC rider like Brad and all of the guys are riding at the front and disappearing into the distance when you're stuck there. On previous teams, the whole team would probably have stopped for him. He's the world champion and I'm sure being in that situation is hard."
Asked about the stages just ahead, Brailsford suggested that today's crash could change the complexion of the race in many ways. "I think all the teams will go away tonight and reflect on what's happened. It might make it a little calmer, because I think the responsibility will lie with three or four teams. But it will be interesting as some of the good climbers will be thinking, ‘I've got nothing to lose now.' They've got to animate the race and try to get some time back."
Ending on an upbeat note, Brailsford concluded: "The first phase of this race is now over and we're going into the second phase. Brad's still on his bike and that was the main goal. Plus, he hasn't lost any time. Overall, that's a big positive – so far, so good. We've gone a little bit further than we did last year…"
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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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