With only five days remaining in the 2014 Tour de France, Team Sky risks having one of its worst grand tours since it hit the road in 2010. This comes on the heels of a rather quiet Giro d’Italia in May. After winning the Tour with Bradley Wiggins in 2012, and Chris Froome in 2013, Team Sky is maintaining a cool exterior as the Tour races toward Paris.
“I don’t think it’s the same scenario as in 2010. In 2010, we weren’t at the races, we weren’t close,” Brailsford said. ”If Chris [Froome] was here, he’d win or be on the podium. If you lose a rider to a crash, that’s a separate scenario.”
Froome’s joys and suffering went hand in hand with Sky’s. He helped the team ride on top of the wave with several stage race wins — Tour of Oman, Critérium International, Tour de Romandie, and Critérium du Dauphiné — en route to the 2013 Tour de France win. It was rosy, literally, because Sky had won the team time trial stage and held the pink jersey as well for a day in the Giro d’Italia two months prior.
This year, Froome suffered back pain, withdrew from races and crashed in the Tour lead-up. He crashed three times in nearly 24 hours, once the race got rolling out of Leeds, and he abandoned on day five. He didn’t do so easily, he tried to persist, but the pain of broken bones in his wrist and hand were too much.
Richie Porte immediately became plan B but faded as soon as the race hit its Alpine stages. Later, he revealed that he was suffering from a chest infection.
The Giro went the same way that the Tour is going. Without a GC man to begin with, Sky raced for stages instead of the overall, coming away with two seconds and a third place.
Already two-thirds in, the team is far away from its heady days in 2012 and 2013 when Bradley Wiggins and Froome dominated. Instead of arranging seating for waiting journalists on the second rest day, it simply did not bother to schedule an official press conference.
It has been a long time since the team has been in such a spot. In its debut grand tour in 2010, Wiggins won the Giro’s opening time trial and wore the pink jersey on stage 2. The 2014 season has been its first hard patch since it got rolling to podium places and overall wins.
Brailsford, in fact, gathered the team staff and riders on the bus Monday evening for a pep talk ahead of the final phase of the Tour.
“We broke the list down. You can either point fingers at each other or … Everyone’s tired. It’s very very easy to start saying, ‘I think it’s your fault.’ Cracks start to appear. That’s not going to happen. We might not look great from the outside, but in here we are going to stick together,” Brailsford said.
“I told them, ‘We have 17 riders who wanted to ride this race and you all scrapped like hell to try and get selected. You got selected. I won’t entertain the idea that this is hard. Or there’s rain. I am not having that because there are other blokes who are disappointed not to be here and they would rip your arm off to be sitting in this bus.’”
It might not all be doom and gloom. Sky put Bernie Eisel and Vasil Kiryienka in stage 16′s main escape that produced eventual winner Michael Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo). The team is showing its fighting spirit even if it lost Froome and saw Porte fade.
If it fails to win in the Tour, it still may look ahead to the Vuelta a España where Froome is tipped to lead the team, and Wiggins may return. With the grand tour season as it is so far, though, the pressure will be on the team in Spain to make amends and to revive the Sky of 2012 and 2013.