Changing of the Guard? Not just yet.
What an extraordinary day on the slopes of Alpe d’Huez. Geraint Thomas not only became the first Brit to win on the fabled mountain but also the first rider to win wearing yellow. That’s some achievement by any measure. And by finishing so strong in a sprint once again, he finished the day 1m 39 seconds ahead in the GC from his team leader Chris Froome who is himself only 11 seconds ahead of Tom Dumoulin. Immediately, mainstream media was full of ‘crisis in Team Sky’ and ‘surely Geraint is now the newly anointed leader’? We think not and we think Team Sky would be mad to change their strategy at this stage.
Someone I once worked with had a saying he would use all the time; “A man who fails to plan should plan to fail”. A bit homespun perhaps but the core truth is sound. Excellent planning is likely to significantly increase your chance of success. And no-one epitomises planning more in the world of professional cycling than Team Sky and Sir Dave Brailsford. This is a man / team who put ramps at the entrances of buildings so that cyclists won’t risk pulling muscles on steps. There are the same guys who carry mattresses around the world that are specific to each rider so they get the best possible sleep. They plan nutrition to the nth degree. These were the guys that on the Giro d’Italia this year had every single member of the support team (including Brailsford) out on the road working as Soigneurs on that famous stage up the Col de Finistre when Froome obliterated the field to take the pink jersey. Plan and execute. Plan and execute.
Yet to listen to the media reporting over the last couple of days with regards to Thomas and Froome in this year’s Tour, one could be forgiven that Brailsford is running around scratching his head trying to work out what to do with the pair of them now that Thomas has performed so magnificently (which he has). Who’s the leader? What do we do now? Cue Brailsford’s head exploding in a puff of smoke. Well, we don’t believe a word of it. Because this is Team Sky and they always have a plan. However, unlike Baldrick’s, Team Sky’s plans almost always work out very well indeed.
There is a sub plot to all this which is that a sizeable majority probably want Thomas to win. It’s not hard to see why. Like Wiggins before him, ‘G’ has an effervescent personality. He’s a true Brit (of the Welsh variety) and races in this country, recently becoming National TT Champion. He’s really one of us and we love him for it don’t we? Froome on the other hand is often labelled a machine, a man who appears to lack the personality that Thomas possesses. Some have even labelled him a plastic brit and not someone who really takes that much interest in the country whose flag he wears, right?
Wrong. Chris Froome is the finest cyclist this country has ever had and has won 6 Grand Tours, the last 3 in a row. He knows exactly how to pull it out of the bag in Week 3 if required and he showed at the Giro that he is in the form of his life. Team Sky would be well advised now to focus on Froome and Thomas working together to neutralise the growing threat that is Tom Dumolin. They need to do it in the Pyrenees too because there is an individual Time Trial coming up later and Dumolin is rather handy at those.
So we haven’t changed our view. Team Sky have a plan and that plan is Froome and Thomas, in that order, in Paris. But what a wonderful position to be in right now. If anything does go wrong for either of them, what a backup. Of course we already have to change our prediction for Paris. We had said Nibali would make it 3rd on the podium. Yesterday however, he suffered a horror accident and has had to retire overnight with a cracked vertebrae. That’s an awful end for a rider who we thought might really worry Team Sky.
So new prediction? It’s 1. Froome, 2. Thomas, 3. Dumoulin. Just as well as it is likely to be a quieter day today!