Green vs Yellow: Sky’s precarious balancing act
This year, Team Sky is in the rare position of having the favourites for the both the Tour de France’s yellow and green jersey classifications.
While many Sky supporters would be cock-a-hoop about this idea, it presents some difficult and unique challenges in itself.
For the purposes of this post, I will ignore the rumours (which I believe are largely unfounded) that Mark Cavendish will quit the Tour de France early to rest up for the Olympic road race, which occurs just a week after the Tour concludes.
I very much doubt whether the Manx Missile will forego the opportunity to win another Champs-Elysees stage and green jersey when he will have the whole of Team GB riding to protect him at the Olympics.
Cavendish has been at his dominating best again in 2012. Three stages of the Giro d’Italia, two at the Tour of Qatar and wins at the Tirreno-Adriatico and the Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. Cav has every right to demand a full complement of lead-out specialists to protect him during the largely flat first week of the Tour.
One problem with that Cav: Wiggins does too. Overall winner of the Paris-Nice, the Tour de Romandie and the Criterium du Dauphine, Wiggo is in career form. Currently, the only rider I can see challenging him at the Tour is our Cadel Evans. So good was he during the Dauphine’s long time trial that he even took half a minute out of world time trial champion Tony Martin.
Two riders, in very strong form, on the same team, in the biggest race of the year (with the exception of the Olympics). Who do you back?
In the green corner: the guy who has 20 stage victories? In the yellow corner: the guy who is in career-best form, itching to become his country’s first-ever Tour de France winner? The more I contemplate it, the more difficult it is to answer. Let’s consider the Manx Missile first.
Cavendish is virtually automatic on the flat stages with a lead-out. His 2009, ’10 and ’11 Tours were absolutely phenomenal, winning six, five and five stages respectively. But he did so with the help of the best lead-out in the business.
With the collapse of HTC-Highroad last year, his faithful lieutenants of Matt Goss and Mark Renshaw have decided to go for their own glory, both having tasted some success this year. Only big Bernie Eisel has stayed with Cav.
With GreenEDGE presumably fielding a team that can help Goss by controlling the lead-outs, Garmin-Barracuda fielding some help for Farrar and the irresistible Peter Sagan in hot form, Cavendish is going to have a massive fight on his hands to get wins with depleted help.
If he is going to win stages and the green jersey, I believe he’ll need at least two, possibly even three other riders to help him out in the stage finishes. However, with Wiggins a possible general classification contender, I can’t see that happening.
Cadel Evans needed every last teammate to combat the Schlecks, Contador, Sanchez and Voeckler last year. While this year’s parcours is not as hard as last year’s, with the absence of Andy Schleck to shape the race in the mountains, Wiggins is going to need to rely on his teammates to set up a fast tempo on climbs to try and shed as many of his rivals as possible.
As he is already losing one through Cavendish, he can’t really afford to lose too many more to the lead-out. Even Armstrong had a clutch of six or seven riders setting up the pace for him at the bottom of climbs when he was riding at US Postal, and Lance was a much better climber than Wiggins will ever be.
However, this is quite likely the best chance Wiggins ever gets. Without Andy Schleck or Alberto Contador, with a plethora of time trial kilometres, and with the 100th edition of the Tour next year likely to throw up a doozy of a course, Wiggins cannot let this opportunity slip.
Yet we know how quickly it can get taken away from you. In just a week last year, we saw the aspirations of contenders Vinokourov, Klöden, Horner, Brajkovic and Wiggins himself get dashed through crashes. Sky can’t afford this to happen again and will need to throw as many men as possible at Wiggins, and at the expense of Cavendish, to protect him.
Ultimately, for me, it comes down to one choice: do you back the guy with the proven track record for success or do you roll the dice and hope a massive but calculated gamble comes off? Because, in my opinion, only one will succeed.
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