The Switch That Won Team Sky the Tour de France

So it took the peloton by surprise halfway through this summer’s Tour when, all of a sudden, the team that leaves no detail to chance didn’t even seem to know who its strongest rider was. He was never put into trouble by anyone in the mountains or on any stage.” Froome had to settle for the third step on the podium. “That’s the strength of our team: we have really only one goal,” Sky mountain domestique Wout Poels said. “But you need a lineup of very, very strong riders to make a plan like that work. Froome, the most accomplished stage racer of his generation, became a deluxe domestique. Then, once he showed up, he was booed mercilessly by fans on the French roadside. It would be unfair to say that Froome’s time at the top is over, because Froome is still Froome, the winner of six Grand Tours who happened to arrive in France exhausted and distracted. But Thomas proved he was the stronger rider and kept the yellow jersey. “The hardest thing is not to crack under pressure.”   What this means for Sky’s internal dynamics is a conundrum the team will have to solve before next summer. Sky famously studies hotels along the route to know which ones have air conditioning and which ones don’t. But even though he called it a “dream” to finish third while supporting Thomas, it was clear that Froome had not had a fun Tour de France. When you feel that you were beaten by the road. Though he was unproven in the third week of a Grand Tour, he somehow had the legs to sprint for the line in the Pyrenees. And he even had a shot at winning Saturday’s final time trial until Portal told him to cool it toward the end and not take so many risks in the corners. He was only cleared to race it in the week before the start, following a nine-month investigation into his abnormally high levels of an asthma drug at last fall’s Vuelta a Espana. Team Sky spends all year honing every possible detail to win the Tour de France, the race that is practically its raison d’être. You go all in.”   No detail is too small. “He didn’t make any mistakes. “He was in the shape of his life,” said Team Sunweb’s Tom Dumoulin, who finished second, 1 minute and 51 seconds behind Thomas. And Thomas, who had never won a Grand Tour, morphed into the Sky leader, all the way to victory on the Champs-Elysées on Sunday. “It’s not too hard when you have a team like this one,” Portal said. At least, it was until the Tour reached the Alps. “I don’t think there’s a problem for Chris, because in the end, it’s his legs,” said Sky sports director Nicolas Portal, the tactician behind the team’s success. When you feel that the people in front of you were stronger.” Thomas’s flawless race, from start to finish, saw him become the first man in 25 years to notch back-to-back stage wins in the Alps. It invests millions in sports science. “It’s incredible just to be sat here with this jersey. And the backup, the affable former track specialist who spends his free time watching rugby, was left to pull off one of the most ostentatious Tour victories in recent memory. It prepares custom bedsheets for the riders. Any squad with real hopes of taking the yellow jersey organizes itself around a leader, with the other seven riders devoted to shielding and pacing him so that he is as fresh as possible when the time comes for a decisive attack. And for us it was a motivation.” The headache now for the rest of pro cycling is that Sky’s assembly line has somehow produced another champion. “When there is negativity like that, it brings us as a team closer together,” Froome said. But his attempt to win the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France five weeks later proved too much for him here. “A big thanks to Froomey…I appreciate having the best stage rider ever riding for me.” To understand how momentous Team Sky’s internal reordering was, it’s important to understand how cycling teams structure themselves for a race like the Tour. “You accept it more easily when you feel that it’s a fair result. That’s when his teammate, a 32-year-old support rider from Wales named Geraint Thomas took over the leader’s yellow jersey. Which wasn’t bad for a widely underestimated 32-year-old with a reputation for crashing in crucial moments. One even tried to take a swing at him on the Alpe d’Huez. The team has now won six of the past seven Tours with three different riders. He became so dominant that he set his sights on winning a complete set of Grand Tours, a feat he managed over the past 12 months. Suddenly, Froome was the Super Bowl winning quarterback holding a clipboard for his backup. But Thomas has also proven he has the class to take on anyone, especially with the Sky machine thrumming behind him. Insane,” Thomas said ahead of Sunday’s ceremonial stage into Paris. “You can choose to let it get to you or you can choose to let it motivate you. For the past five years at Sky, that had always been Froome, ever since he took over from 2012 Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins. Britain European culture European Identity Europeans France sports UK Wales White identity White menGeraint Thomas was supposed to support four-time defending champion Chris Froome. The expectation had always been that it would be Chris Froome, the four-time Tour champion coming off a stunning, if physically taxing victory in the Giro d’Italia.