A Funny Old Week for Team Sky
Imagine a remake of “Open All Hours” with Arkwright replaced by (Sir Dave) Brailsford. It’s the end of another long day and he stands on the threshold of his back-street bike-repair shop, one hand thrust into the pocket of his grubby smock coat and the other cradling a mug of tea, made by Froomy after completing his deliveries. As a trumpet plays mournfully in the background, he muses on the exorbitant prices of puncture repair kits and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. “Aye, it’s been a funny old week,” he says. “On Monday it were all that old stuff about Wiggo and his doctor’s notes. He never broke no rules. Now they’re sayin’ the rules were wrong and we should pay compensation. Compensay-say-say-tion? I don’t know what the world’s comin’ to.” The camera pans back, just as Nurse Gladys Emmanuel (Freeman) pulls up in her Team Sky Morris Minor, handing Brailsford a jiffy bag and fending off his clumsy innuendos about her exempting him from his own therapeutic uses.
Mixed Fortunes on the Road
When this week’s racing got underway, things weren’t much better. The Paris- Nice had become something of a Sky benefit with 5 winners in the last 7 years. On his day Wout Poels can look like one of the classiest riders in the peloton. He won the Time Trial on stage 4 in terrific style and moved up to 2nd overall, but he crashed out of the race two days later, sustaining a broken collarbone in a 70kph smash and will face a race against time to be fit to defend his Liege-Bastogne-Liege title. David de la Cruz won the last stage into a rain-drenched Nice, repeating his win of last year (when he had outsprinted Alberto Contador, the time bonuses therefore depriving ‘Bertie’ of overall victory) and was Sky’s highest-placed rider in the final standings – 9th @ 2m 35s. Defending champion Sergio Henao, nominally team leader of a team that seemed to lack purpose after Poels’s departure, was always there or thereabouts but he lacked sparkle and finished 12th @ 4m 8s.
Kwiatkowski poised to land Tirreno-Adriatico; Froome playing the long game
There seems little doubt that Sky have sent their “A” team to Italy for the Tirreno – Adriatico, a race which has become favoured over the Paris-Nice for riders with Grand Tour ambitions. Sky finished a good 3rd in the opening team time trial and after stage 3 had 3 riders in the top 5 overall, with Geraint Thomas donning the leader’s blue jersey. But a day later a frustrated Thomas was standing at the side of the road, vainly trying to free a jammed chain – the incident occurred only 12km from the finish and he lost 34 seconds and the overall lead. To add insult to injury, the stage was won by Mikel Landa, who had always felt constrained when riding for Sky, but now has more freedom at Movistar (at least when Valverde and Quintana aren’t riding).
Today, Michal Kwiatkowski took overall lead, thanks to the time bonuses of finishing third – with tomorrow almost certainly a day for the break or the sprinters, he will have a good chance of defending that lead in the concluding short time trial on Tuesday. Last year the former World champion was in stellar early-season form, winning the Strade Bianche and the Milan – San Remo, and he is clearly in good shape again ahead of the spring classics. Someone playing a much longer game is Chris Froome – he admitted this week that he is some way short of the form he will need for the Giro and Tour (always provided he is allowed to compete… more headaches for Sir Dave) but he has been under surprising pressure on the steep gradients of the Tirreno stages, the camera focusing on his jutting elbows and furiously spinning legs as he daily drops out of contention.
Double Triumph for the Yates
Call it sibling rivalry or anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better but there is no denying the talent of the Yates twins when the roads get steeper. In Italy Adam Yates won today’s stage, having finished 2nd to Primoz Roglic on stage 3 into Trevi. Today he blasted clear of the pack with 5km to go and held them all at bay to ride alone into the piazza of Filottrano, a town bedecked in the blue and yellow of Astana to commemorate local hero Michele Scarponi who was tragically killed on the roads a year ago. Yesterday brother Simon had won a gruelling stage of the Paris- Nice on rain-lashed roads to the ski station of La Colmiane, attacking with more than 4 km to go and holding on to win by 8 seconds. With overall leader Luis Leon Sanchez fading out of contention, Yates wore the yellow jersey on today’s final stage but lost the race by 4 seconds to Movistar’s up and coming Marc Soler. Isolated without team support, Yates struggled to close the gaps on the Cote de Peille as Soler bridged to De la Cruz and Fraile but was helped when Jon and Gorka Izagirre, a duo of brothers whose talents match the Yates, ended up tangled together on the tarmac after a slippery left-hand bend on the descent. It was then a desperate chase into Nice but time ran out for Yates and Soler, who has long been touted in Spain as the next Contador, Indurain or Bahamontes, recorded his first big World Tour success.
A Win’s a Win for Cousin
The Paris-Nice had seen half the stages won by French teams with two collected by riders from Direct Energie to show that there is life after Tommy Voeckler. Their 2nd win came from unheralded domestique Jerome Cousin who sports a beard that is as impressive (and un-aerodynamic) as Simon Geschke’s. The stage into Sisteron was only his 2nd win as a pro and came 1682 days after his first, in the 2013 Etoile de Besseges. Cousin’s win was not heroic, but it was canny. He had been the only rider in the 5 man break who had been able to bridge the gap to Nils Pollitt after the giant German time-triallist had attacked and gone clear. Sensibly, he sat in behind the Katusha rider, who towed him to the finish, refusing his increasingly desperate pleas to do some arbeit and gambling that the peloton would not close them down before the finish. They didn’t and Cousin was able to scoot round the dejected Pollitt in the last 200 metres to score an easy victory. It’s results that count, some say, and it’s hard to begrudge a win for a man who must have ridden 100,000 miles, with or without a number pinned to his back, since his last success, but it was hardly a victory in the grand style. Ce n’est pas magnifique, mais c’est le guerre.