Friday, 14 January 2011

Team Sky 2011 Preview

 Since the end of last season there has been a shift in tone and ambition from key Team Sky figures like Bradley Wiggins and Dave Brailsford.  Whether it be Wiggins confirming that he was “too pompous” this year about the tour or Brailsford admitting they failed to live up to their own hype. This blog will examine and asses some of the changes that Team Sky has made for this season.

Changes to the Roster

Riders In (Previous Team)
Riders Out (Destination)
Alex Dowsett (Trek-Livestrong)
Sylvain Calzati (Bretagne-Schuller)
Davide Apollonio (Cervelo Test Team)
Davide Viganò (Leopard-Trek)
Jeremy Hunt (Cervelo Test Team)
Nicolas Portal (Sports Director – Team Sky)
Christian Knees (Milram)

Michael Rogers (HTC – Columbia)

Rigoberto Urán (Caisse d’Epargne)

Xabier Zandio (Caisse d’Epargne)

The above transfers show that Sky has had a successful transfer period. They have jettisoned or “moved upstairs” two riders who did not perform last year; Calzati or Portal. The loss of Viganò to Leopard-Trek is negated by bringing in superior riders who can perform the roles he undertook last season. Sky have covered all bases by hiring a rider with proven results in certain races (Rogers), riders with vast experience (Zandio and Hunt), young up and coming talents (Dowsett, Apollonio and Urán) and a rider who will look good in the German National Champions jersey (Knees).  It should be pointed out they have still failed to sign a proven grand tour performer which they tried to do last year when they went after Nibali and Cunego . Furthermore they still have not signed a large Italian name rider who could challenge for the Giro and satisfy the demands of Sky Italia.

Rigoberto Uran

For me the key signing has to Urán.  He is a rider who despite his age (23) has already some impressive results:  A stage win in Tour De Suisse (2007), 3rd in the Giro di Lombardia and 5th overall in the Tour de Romandie (2009). Last year his focus switched from weeklong stage races to grand tours and he raced both the Giro and Vuelta. His overall General Classification positions were 35th (Giro) and 33rd (Vuelta) and he placed 7th of Stage 16 of the Giro on the Plan de Corones and 5th on stage 11 of Vuelta. These results may not set the world alight but they are still impressive considering his young age and the fact that these were the 2nd and 3rd grand tours he ever competed in. The old cliché that with these races in his legs he can only benefit may prove true this season. It will be interesting to see what schedule Sky gives him (At this moment he is only down for the Ruta del Sol) but I hope to see him in the Tour either being a mountain domestique or going for stage wins.  Whatever happens this year there is no doubt that Sky have signed one of the hottest Grand Tour prospects around.

Backroom & Coaching Staff

Team Sky have also significantly boosted their backroom and coaching staff. Servais Knaven and Nicolas Portal are two new Sports Directors which will mean Sky finally have enough to cover all their races which they did not last year when Dan Hunt and Rod Ellingworth spent more time in the Team Car they would have like or expected (largely due to Scott Sunderland’s departure). Also Knaven should add a great deal of knowledge and insight for the classics making Sky DS line up at the classics of Knaven and De Jongh impressive.  Another improvement is the addition of Bobby Julich as a “Race Coach”. The job title maybe ambiguous but essentially he is the riders coach and he seemed to do great job helping Richie Porte and has a superb knowledge of Time Trials.

Bobby Julich

Sean Yates has now officially taken the role of senior sports director in place of Scott Sunderland. Whether he is the right main for this senior position remains to be seen. It is noticeable that Team Sky has still not replaced Brian Nygaard who had the role of Director of Communications. Fran Millar who has worked alongside Dave Brailsford from the start of the project as a project manager/ head of PR basically fulfils that role although she is interestingly not listed on their website. 

Changes to the Race Calendar

There have been some interesting changes to Sky’s race calendar. I could list you all the small changes such as the Post Danmark Rundt is replacing the Tour of Poland but that could get quite dull. Instead here are some major changes:
  1. A reorganising  of the classics calendar with the three day De Panne replacing Dwars door Vlaanderen and E3 Prijs Vlaanderen-Harelbeke
  2. A much more substantial October racing schedule with new races like: Paris-Bourges, Giro dell ‘Emilia, Milano-Torino & The Japan Cup
  3. Perhaps the biggest addition (especially for US fans of Team Sky – Are there any?) is the Tour of California which is subject to invitation which Sky have applied for
The reason for the inclusion of the Japan Cup and the Tour of California is clear after looking at the IG Group (overall company of IG Markets – Team Sky’s new sponsor) office locations worldwide. They have key offices in the USA and Japan.

The improvements made in personnel and attitudes are all positive moves for Team Sky and deal with some of the mistakes they made last year. But talk can only do so much; the riders will have to back up the words on the road. Sean Yates said at a media day during the team gathering before Christmas:

 “To cut to the chase, we’re going to go to key races with the aim to win. We have the squad and the riders, so we are capable. That will be the plan rather than turn up and have a go if we feel like it while looking ahead to the Tour.”

Now it would be interesting to see what they define as key races. Will it be races that they have done well in or actually key races? Last year they did well on the cobbled road season and they will be looking to repeat and better that success. However they will need to perform better in many major races such as Paris-Nice, the Ardennes Classics (where they were non-existent last year) and the Grand Tours. Yes Wiggins did well to wear Pink at Giro after the prologue but other than that all Sky achieved at the grand tours was good team trials and getting in breaks but not winning stages.

This year, despite the diluting down, the management have still set high expectations. There has been a lot of talk about the opening week of the tour and how it is the perfect opportunity to get the yellow jersey and how Geraint Thomas can win Grand Tours. This does not help the riders but heaps more pressure on them. Dave Brailsford always says it is all about making sure that the riders have everything they need to perform to the top of their ability. Well the above stories do not achieve that. It could be argued that the idea that road racing is so much more unquantifiable than track racing has still not sunk into Dave Brailsford head.


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