Sky’s dominance at this year’s Tour de France was in quiet but firm demonstration on stage 14 of the race to Le Cap d'Agde. The stage win may have slipped through their fingers but Bradley Wiggins pulled the strings, first subduing the ambitions of Cadel Evans and Jurgen ven den Broeck on Mont-Saint-Clair and then reminding the field of his pursuit skill as he led out Edvald Boasson Hagen in the sprint.
“We planned this from this morning,” said Sky’s principle Dave Brailsford.
“On that last drag with 2 kilometres to go our guys would try and take it up there and come into the corner. When Bradley found himself on the front with Edvald on his wheel I think he was thinking of a bit of payback and just tried to set him up for the opportunity of the stage win.”
Evans’s acceleration on Mont-Saint-Clair bore similarities to his attack on the stage to La Toussuire. This time he dispatched his team to the front, who split the field on the run-in to the narrow climb. The defending champion moved to the front on the early slopes before making two testing accelerations. Jurgen van den Broeck was the only GC rider willing to match the Australian and for the briefest moment Wiggins was alone, Froome positionally exposed.
“Credit to Evans,” Brailsford said.
“He’s a great racer and you know he’s going to race all the way to the final and you’d expect that. I think that’s testament to his fighting spirit but I don’t think he ever put any of the guys under pressure. They rode up relatively easily and from talking to the guys on the bus it wasn’t a problem.”
Evans’s legs are perhaps not as willing as his mind, his bad day at La Toussuire having come on the back of a disappointing time trial. However the defending champion and his team don’t appear ready to throw in the towel yet, which is something Brailsford is aware of.
“You look at the race and you try and put yourselves in their shoes and try and think about what would happen but ultimately I think it’s more about taking the initiative and trying to take control of the race and nullifying opportunities rather than over thinking,” he told Cyclingnews.
Like Wiggins, this is new territory for Brailsford. Wiggins has been more at ease with the media in the last few days and become more relaxed with each post stage press conference. Brailsford has faced questions over team leadership and even WAG outbursts on Twitter, but at the finish of today’s stage he was resolute.
“This isn’t as big as an Olympic Games, is it? It’s nowhere near the Olympics Games,” he told Cyclingnews when asked how he was personally dealing with the pressure of the Tour de France leadership within the team.
“You haven’t got a billion viewers watching this and you haven’t got the intensity of an entire nation. This is a big sporting event but the Olympics are a one of the truly global sporting events of the world and the media scrutiny and intensity there is very big.”