Tour de France 2017- Team Sky’s remarkable unity is masking Chris Froome’s failings
Team Sky’s mask slipped slightly during a fascinating Stage 15 of the Tour de France… but their reaction to Chris Froome’s faltering only further highlighted why they are the best team in the sport – writes Tom Bennett.
This Chris Froome is not vintage Chris Froome.
The three-time Tour de France Champion is a pale imitation of the dynamic rider who dominated the Tour in 2013, but a combination of his remaining quality; a remarkable will to win; and the incredible strength of his team, should see Froome lift a fourth title in Paris.
But this year should, if Sky make the right decision, be the end of the road for the 32-year-old – as a team leader at least.
This year’s race has had echoes of Bradley Wiggins’ campaign in 2012. Yes he was riding well, yes the team tactics made a Wiggins win a strong possibility, but throughout the three weeks it was his deputy felt like the stronger rider. Froome could have won the race that year if given the licence to attack. And it very much feels like Mikel Landa is in a similar position this time around.
Landa, FroomeGetty Images
Landa’s position at Team Sky is very much in doubt. Should he be asked to continue in a supporting role then it would be little surprise to see him move to greener pastures later this year, with Movistar seemingly the likeliest destination. But it is to Landa’s great credit that he has been a willing subservient for Froome’s cause.
On Sunday afternoon, at a crucial point of Stage 15, Landa found himself in a rapidly diminishing main GC group with Froome stranded after yet another mechanical failure.
Had he rode on and attacked then there was a genuine chance of the Spaniard strengthening his challenge for a podium place. But Landa did what the team required, sacrificing his own position of strength to drop back and drag his struggling team-mate back to the group.
It is that attitude which makes Team Sky such a dominant force in the sport. They have the resources to build the strongest squad in the peloton. But such a collection of talent can only really achieve its potential if they all push in the same direction. And with Landa by his side, Froome can win the Tour without being anywhere near his best.
Michal Kwiatkowski provided yet another example of Sky extraordinary unity on Sunday. The talented 27-year-old was viewed as the ultimate luxury signing when he joined back in 2015 as reportedly the most expensive domestique in the history of the sport. With World Road Race and World Team Time Trial titles already to his name, Kwiatkowski joined Sky as a rider with the potential to achieve big things. But during the two weeks of the Tour to-date he has sacrificed himself completely to the cause.
From carrying water.
To acting as mechanic mid-race.
Kwiatkowski embodies the Team Sky ethos.
Say what you will about Dave Brailsford, but his extraordinary ability to forge world-class individuals into a cohesive team remains a crucial part of Britain’s cycling success.
The unwritten rulebook gets torn up
It was a relief to see the peloton attack when Froome had his poorly timed mechanical on Sunday. While ethical codes are important in the sport, mechanical reliability is also a big part of the race itself, and it would have turned a remarkable climb into a damp squib if AG2R La Mondiale had stopped their aggressive riding to allow Froome to regather.
By acting as they did, the peloton provided one of the most enthralling sections of the day’s racing, with Team Sky forced to make some big decisions as a visibly panicking Froome desperately tried to get back to the group.
Sky’s dominance is so great that they can, at times, turn a potentially interesting stage into a sterile grind, so it was fascinating to see how they reacted when events were pushed out of their control.
The result was, if anything, even more impressive than if events had gone to Sky’s micro-managed plan.
-- By Tom Bennett