Mikel Landa

2016 Tour de France preview: Team Sky

The 2016 edition of the legendary Tour de France is less than a week away, and all of the 2016 contenders and riders are busy finalising their preparations for the big race. The three week stage race is arguably the most gruelling sporting event on the planet, and will test the resolve of even the most talented and dedicated rider.

This year there are plenty of contenders looking to topple Team Sky and their leader, defending race winner Chris Froome. But will they be able to stop him from claiming a third tour title come Sunday 24th July, and standing on the podium under the Champs-Elysees in Paris. Let’s take a look at the nine man Team Sky line up tasked with helping Froome win his second successive Tour.

Chris Froome – Great Britain – Age 31

For Froome, anything less than a third Tour victory will be a disappointment. The talented British rider has proved himself as the benchmark in professional cycling over the past three years, and is coming off a strong Criterium du Dauphine victory, one of the key warm up races before the Tour.

With a very strong team supporting him he will enter the race as the favourite, although the magic with the tour is that anything can happen. If Froome can avoid a crash or illness expect him to be showing his immense time trialling and climbing ability, the two key skills which make him such a formidable grand tour contender.

Sergio Henao – Colombia – Age 28

Colombian Henao makes his TDF debut this year, after a difficult beginning to the season marred by questionable biological passport readings. Now cleared and back to competing, Henao will be key ally of Froome in the mountains.

He is a very good climber who will be capable of stage wins for himself, but will likely be fully focused on supporting Froome. Along with Mikel Landa and Mikel Nieve he will be the key if Froome is to neutralise any potential advantage from rival Nairo Quintana, who has shown in the past he can take time out of Froome in the key mountain stages.

Mikel Landa – Spain – Age 26

Spaniard Landa is the new signing at Team Sky, and will be a key domestique for Froome throughout the three week race. Landa proved his credentials in the Giro D’Italia last year, but his season so far has been hampered by illness.

Now back to full health he will be crucial for Froome to claim victory. Left to his own devices and Landa could likely contend to the top ten in general classification, but supporting Froome he will take on the super domestique role that got him noticed at his previous Astana team.

Mikel Nieve – Spain – Age 32

Another key member of Team Sky in the mountains will be fellow Spaniard Mikel Nieve, who has already shown his talents with a brilliant solo stage win to somewhat save a difficult Giro for Team Sky.

With top ten’s in previous grand tours, Nieve will help shepherd Froome up the difficult mountains, whilst also helping claw back any rivals should they make an escape. In a three week tour, the help of his team mates will be crucial for Froome to win, and in the mountains is where the likes of Nieve will shine for his team leader.

Geraint Thomas – Great Britain – Age 30

Welshman Thomas is a rider who seems to improve with every passing season. He has already won the Paris-Nice stage race earlier this year. If he can recapture the form that very nearly propelled him to the overall top ten last year, Thomas will provide a key supporter for Froome.

If he’s given free reign on a stage he could very well claim his first TDF stage win, or if he’s in a high placing he could prove to be a very important strategic help to Team Sky. He could prove a key ally as he could be used by the team to burn out their rivals, as they would have to mark him if he’s in the top five or ten.

Ian Stannard – Great Britain- Age 29

Ian Stannard will be used to help keep Froome safe during the first week of flat stages, where it’s very easy to be caught up in an accident and your tour could be over after a few days. He is also an underrated climber who could help protect his team leader once the medium level mountains hit. Whilst the climbers usually get the headlines, Stannard is a very important member of Froome’s support team.

Luke Rowe  – Great Britain – Age 26

Along with Stannard Luke Rowe will be key help to Froome on the flat stages that are prevalent in the first week. A noted classics rider with considerable skill, he can help keep Froome safe and ensure he doesn’t lose any time to his rivals early on. Rowe will prove himself to be an integral part of any potential Team Sky and Chris Froome victory, as he did last year.

Wout Poels – Holland – Age 28

Poels achieved a first for Team Sky this year, securing their first ever classics monument victory after winning the prestigious Liege-Bastogne-Liege race. Along with his ability on the flat road stages he could also help Froome in the mountains, something he did to crucial effect in the latter stages of last year’s tour.Poels can provide assistance to Froome in almost every type of stage in the tour, and this is what makes him so important to Team Sky.

Vasil Kiryienka – Belarus – Age 34

Experienced rider Vasil Kiryenka will be another key road marshal for Froome in the early stages of this year’s race, ensuring he goes into the key stages at the very least level with his rivals. Aside from his support role, expect the reigning world time trial champion to seriously challenge for victory in the two time trial stages. Expect to see Kiryienka throughout the race, at the front protecting his team leader.

That concludes my preview of Team Sky and their line up for this year’s Tour de France. They will be squad every other team is targeting this year, but will this be enough to stop this very strong outfit from claiming consecutive Tour victories?

Any comments would be greatly appreciated and thank you for reading. Find me on Twitter @JWjournalism.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Dominant Chris Froome Win Sign Of Things To Come?

On Sunday evening Britain’s Chris Froome came across the finishing line on the Champs-Elysee’s to confirm his dominant Tour de France victory, his second overall. He held the leaders yellow jersey for the majority of the three week tour, and with the best team supporting him could this victory be repeated in the next few years?

Whilst of course Froome and his fellow Team Sky colleagues will insist that winning the biggest bike race in the world was anything but easy. Of course it was anything but easy, with a team that looked to be in control of the race throughout the majority of it’s three week running. Whilst the Spanish Movistar team and it’s two pronged attack of the peloton’s best climber Nairo Quintana and the experienced Spaniard Alejandro Valverde troubled Froome in the final few days, he always had just enough to retain his race lead.

Chris Froome celebrates his second overall victory in the Tour de France on the podium last Sunday. Picture credit goes to Sirotti.

The penultimate stage’s heroics from Quintana as he surged up the famous Alpe D’Huez mountain climb and took 1 minute 26 seconds out of Chris Froome’s lead, he was able to ride into Paris with a winning margin of 1 minute 12 seconds in hand. Plenty of experts and fans have spent this week stating where Froome won this year’s Tour. The popular consensus is that he won the race on Stage 2 into Zeeland, where Froome used crosswinds to his advantage to take 1 minute 28 seconds out of Quintana. The other popular answer for where he claimed his victory is his dominant stage victory on Stage 10 going into La Pierre-Saint-Martin, the first climbing stage of the tour. He attacked late on and claimed a further 1 minute 4 seconds over Quintana in just over 6km of climbing.

Froome’s Team Sky have constantly spoke since the team’s inception in 2010 about the importance of marginal gains, which has meant the team is now widely known in professional cycling for being the major innovators of the WorldTour peloton. This intense focus on every detail of professional bike racing, no matter how small, has helped the team now win three Tour de France titles in four years.

Famous examples of their innovation this year alone are new suspension designed to help firstly Bradley Wiggins in the Spring classic Paris-Roubaix, and Froome with the infamous cobbled stages that were the danger point in the first week of this years tour. Another example is the teams decision to bring a large motorhome for team leader Richie Porte in this years Giro D’Italia. It gained a lot of press attention, although the UCI have now insisted riders stick to the tradition of staying with their team in designated hotels throughout long stage races.

Of his current rivals it appears the young Colombian Nairo Quintana is his strongest rival in the coming years. Quintana is only 25 years old and has already amassed an impressive palmares in Grand Tour races, with two 2nd places in his two Tour de France races, and an overall victory in the Giro D’Italia last year. His climbing ability in unmatched in the current peloton, therefore this years Tour de France presented a perfect opportunity for him. The layout favoured specialist climbers, with a lack of time trials or flat stages that he struggles with in comparison with his rivals.

Quintana after the race remarked that he felt he possibly lost the Tour de France in the opening week of flat stages, and the strategic errors his Movistar team made in the opening week will need to be rectified if Quintana is to seriously challenge for the Tour de France in the future. On the other hand, his innate climbing ability and the strength of his team mean he will never be discounted in future Tours.

The talk before the race was of four major victory contenders battling it out for overall victory this year, although in reality it came down to a straight fight between Froome and Quintana. The other two contenders, Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali, looked out of sorts during the race. For Alberto Contador this will have been because of the supreme effort he had already put himself through earlier this year as he attempted to complete a double victory in the Giro D’Italia and Tour de France in the same year.

Whilst Contador dominated the Giro in May, the effort that he put into that hard fought victory meant he looked weakened throughout the tour, although put in remarkable efforts to remain in contention, he eventually finished 5th overall and 9 minutes 48 seconds down on victor Chris Froome. Contador finished his season with the Tour de France, and will now likely fully focus on preparation for the Tour de France next year, as he looks for one last tour victory in the last years of the remarkable Spaniard’s career at his current age of 32.

Alberto Contador celebrating his Giro D’Italia victory in May. Photo sourced from CNN.com

For Vincenzo Nibali, his lackluster tour form was more puzzling, as the defending champion competed in very few races prior to the tour, with his only success being in the Italian national road race championships in late June. Therefore he should have been fresh and raring to go over the tour, although from early on he looked out of sorts. His form raised the ire of his Astana team boss Alexandre Vinokourov. At one point in the opening week the team looked to have switched it’s focus to team mate Jakob Fulsang, before Nibali raised his game in the second and third weeks of the race.

He even showed a glimpse of the form that led him to dominate last years tour, with a brilliant solo breakaway towards the end of the stage 19 in the mountains, taking the stage victory and 1 minute 14 seconds out of Froome. His strong third week meant he eventually recovered to finish 4th overall, 8 minutes 36 seconds behind Froome. Nibali announced this week he will ride the Vuelta de Espana later month, as he looks for victory in the final Grand Tour of the year.

Next years Tour de France will now be crucial for Nibali, as it will be the litmus test that determines whether he deserves to be seen as one of the great Tour de France riders, or whether his dominant victory in 2014 was a perfect result for him thanks to the eliminations of Alberto Contador and Chris Froome and the no-show of Nairo Quintana. He has little left to prove in cycling having won all three Grand Tours, although his legacy may be slightly tainted if he fails to reach the heights of his tour win last year.

Some Chris Froome detractors may point to the fact that with the effective cycling transfer window opening today, that some of Froome’s loyal lieutenants may seek pastures new as they looks to establish their own Grand Tour credentials. Key domestique this year and good friend Richie Porte has today had his long awaited move to Team BMC confirmed. Whilst losing the talented Australian is a big blow for Froome and Team Sky, another key domestique for him this year in Dutchman Wout Poels looks to be a more than adequate replacement for Porte within Team Sky.

Another key domestique for Chris Froome this year was the Welshman Geraint Thomas, who for a long time was within the top five of the overall standings, before losing 10 minutes on the leaders on stage 19. His eventual 15th overall however is still a best for him at the Tour de France, and in an interview afterwards stated he has thought about becoming a Grand Tour contender in the future. Whether this will be with Team Sky for the Giro of Vuelta or whether he will be forced to leave the team to achieve this should he want to is currently unknown.

Although Team Sky will lose some riders this year, the transfer window also means they can re-stock or even improve their roster for next year. Two high profile names consistently linked with Team Sky are current world road race champion Michael Kwiatkowski and the Spaniard Mikel Landa. Both are out of contract with their current teams, Etixx-QuickStep and Astana respectively, and both are strongly rumored to have already signed deals with Team Sky. Both are hugely talented riders, with Kwiatkowski a key man for Etixx this year and Landa showing his class with a strong third overall in this years Giro D’Italia.

Both Landa and Kwiatkowski would be huge signings for Team Sky, and would mean the team would go into the 2016 season with an even stronger Grand Tour roster than this year, which is a formidable thought for their rivals. Other riders have been linked with Sky, including the likes of strong Movistar climbers Benat Intxausti and the Izagirre brothers Gorka and Ion will join the team next year. Intxausti would be a likely key mountain domestique for Froome should he join the team, whilst the Izagirre brother would be key domestiques on the flat stages for Team Sky.

In overall terms, Team Sky showed this year they had the strongest overall team in the race, as they looked the dominant team throughout all stages of the Tour de France, backed up by Froome’s dominance in the yellow jersey from stage 7 until the final 21 in Paris last Sunday. The teams potential was realised this year, and if any of the rumors of riders joining the team prove to be true, the team would be even stronger at next years Tour de France.

For Froome’s rivals Quintana, Contador and Nibali and their Movistar, Tinkoff-Saxo and Astana teams respectively, this should have them very worried about the strength of Froome and Team Sky. With the off bike distractions around doping allegations and a small minority of fans shameful actions towards Froome not likely to be repeated next year, his rivals will have to come to the tour in peak condition, or for a strategic error or other ailment to halt what will likely be a very tough to beat Chris Froome and Team Sky.

What are your thoughts on this article? Please feel free to comment below and give your opinions. Hope you enjoyed it!

Giro Perfect Appetiser For Le Tour

If this year’s Tour de France is anything like the recent Giro D’Italia, the cycling community is in for one hell of a Tour this July. The constant unpredictability and excitement kept cycling fans hooked throughout the three weeks of racing as a top line peloton raced around the picturesque scenery of Italy. What did we actually learn from the Giro going into the Tour however?

Firstly we were reaffirmed that Spaniard Alberto Contador will go down as one of the greatest ever grand tour cyclists when his career is all said and done. He cooly showed his own strength with incredible rides, particularly in the last week with his Stage 16 performance riding up the Mortirolo climb. He also had to rely on his own strength a lot in the mountains to hold off the hugely formidable Astana team. It wasn’t all plain sailing however, as he showed with a dislocated collarbone in a late crash on Stage 6 in the first week. He also showed some weakness when he was dropped on the penultimate day on the Colle Delle Finestre mountain, which was granted the Cima Coppi status this year, awarded  to the highest mountain of the Giro in honour of Italian cycling legend Fausto Coppi.

Alberto Contador has achieved the first portion of his much heralded attempt at a Giro-Tour double, aiming to be the first since 1998 to achieve it. Him and his Tinkoff-Saxo team already began talking of preparing for the Tour de France from the moment Contador crossed the line on the penultimate Stage 20. They will now begin an intense month of preparation before the Tour, as the team looks for the famous double.

Contador celebrates winning the Giro. Photo credit goes to Graham Watson.

Astana showed themselves to be a very formidable team going into the Tour, despite team leader and reigning Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali absent at an altitude training camp, the team showing it’s strength by frequent attempts to dominate the race by force with the sheer number of riders they could use at the front of the peloton throughout the race.

Whilst team leader Fabio Aru will not be racing at the Tour, the Giro’s breakout rider Mikel Landa looks certain to be a key domestique for Nibali if he’s selected for the Tour. For Astana they will have to make re-signing Landa a priority this year, although with Nibali at the Tour and Aru at the Giro and Vuelta it’s difficult to see where Landa lies in their puzzle. If he carries over his form in the next few years, Landa will become a great grand tour contender for sure.

Team Sky suffered with a disappointing Giro, as team leader Richie Porte suffering first from a hugely controversial two minute time penalty for accepting from fellow Australian Simon Clarke, who rode for the Australian Orica-GreenEDGE team. With further accidents and poor showings, one of Chris Froome’s likely key domestique’s now has some question marks over his form going into the Tour, despite and impressive year before the Giro.

There were some positives for Team Sky however, with the Czech Leopold Konig taking up the GC reigns admirably, as he finished sixth overall and will also likely be a key domestique for Froome next month. The team can also take heart from it’s Italian sprinter Elia Viviani. He won stage two early on and was in contention for the red points jersey throughout the race. He looks to be a potential top line sprinter, as he will look to pit himself up against the current benchmarks Mark Cavendish and Marcel Kittel.

Simon Clarke helps Richie Porte after the infamous wheel change. Photo credit goes to Tim de Waele and Corbis.

2012 winner Ryder Hesjedal overcome a difficult first week, as he recovered in the mountains. He was a regular presence at the front in the mountains, and was unlucky not to get several stage wins. His fifth place will provide some form of consolation, although at this moment it’s not known whether Hesjedal will also compete in the Tour for Cannondale-Garmin. If he does, expect the Canadian to show well in the iconic French mountains.

Another rider who surprised the cycling world in the Giro was the Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk. The LottoNL-Jumbo rider also overcome a rough first week to share the plaudits with Hesjedal as the race got tough in the mountains during the second and third weeks. He steadily rose up the general classification, eventually finishing a very creditable seventh overall. He also wore the mountain leaders jersey for three days in the third week. Kruijswijk finished 15th in the Tour last year, and if he’s selected it seems likely he will improve on that placing this year. He is definitely a rider to watch during the Tour.

 Kruijswijk in action during the difficult mountain stage 20. Photo credit goes to Graham Watson.

For the Spanish Movistar team, the Giro provided plenty of hope going into the Tour next month. Despite team leader and last year’s winner Nairo Quintana absent this year, he can take hope from the showing of several likely key domestiques during the Giro. Firstly the Costa Rican Andrey Amador showed his strength with a very impressive fourth place finish overall. It not clear if he will indeed ride his first Tour de France since 2013, although he will prove a strong team mate to Quintana if he’s selected.

Other Movistar stand out’s were the Spaniard Benat Intxausti, winner of stage 8. Both he and Italian team mate Giovanni Visconti were serious contenders for the blue mountains classification jersey, with Visconti eventually coming out on top after a brilliant solo break away ride on stage 19. If all three are selected to support Nairo Quintana next month, Movistar will have a team that will be very strong throughout the three week Tour.

Lampre-Merida were another team to surprise in the Giro, with the team building a young and talented roster as they will look to make their impact known during the three week Tour. The young Czech Jan Polanc announced himself with a breakaway win on the first mountain stage in week one, with the team’s sprinters Diego Ulissi and Sacha Modolo combining to take three stage wins. If all three are selected, the team will be confident of it’s chances in the Tour, especially when it comes to the sprinters stages.

 Modolo celebrating his second stage win on stage 17. Photo sourced from Cyclingweekly.co.uk .

The final man to impress in this year’s Giro was Ilnur Zakarin. The young Russian has already been through a lot in his career, which now appears to be getting back on track with the Russian team Katusha. He won stage 11 in Imola, and proved he could ride with the best of them in the break away during the fierce mountain stages. He could prove to be a key young rider for the team if he’s selected for his first Tour de France, as he looks to continue his good form. His name is definitely one to watch our for in cycling over the next few years.

Whilst some may argue that it’s difficult to take much from the Giro D’Italia going into the Tour de France, mostly because of the lack of heavyweight GC favourites aside from Alberto Contador. Plenty however can be taken from the showings from the likes of Richie Porte, Leopold Konig, Mikel Landa, Giovanni Visconti, Ivan Basso and Mick Rogers. These men are important because their form as domestiques could be the difference between victory and defeat for the favourites such as Chris Froome, Vincenzo Nibali,Nairo Quintana and Contador.

If anything, the biggest thing cycling fans can take from this year’s Giro is hope for the Tour. This hope is that the Tour de France provides the excitement and drama which the Giro provided every day, whether from unlikely breakaway’s holding off the peloton or the drama from the GC contenders. If the upcoming Tour de France can provide half the excitement of the Giro during it’s three week running, then we as cycling fans are in for one hell of a Tour de France this year.

If you have any thoughts on this article please feel free to comment any feedback is appreciated. Also thank you for reading my article and making it to the bottom of the page. Thanks.