The final Grand Tour of the cycling season begins tonight with the 2020 edition of the Vuelta España.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the dominating performance of Team Sky in two races that were happening simultaneously, Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico.
“In Paris-Nice, Richie Porte used his mountain goat teammates Uran, Zandio, Lopez Garcia, Siutsou and Kiryienka to smash the race to pieces on the decisive climb up Le Montagne de Lure, before delivering the knockout blow in the final kilometre,” I said.
“Meanwhile, in Italy, Chris Froome ascended to the race lead on the back of what Vincenzo Nibali described as an “infernal tempo” set by Dario Cataldo, Sergio Henao and Rigoberto Uran.”
Of course, Porte went on win Paris-Nice while Froome finished second to Nibali after losing the race lead on a brutal penultimate sixth stage.
That story highlighted the strength in depth Sky has and their ability to train their riders to perform (almost) precisely to instruction in a stage race.
No one can argue with their methods or results.
But while that was going on Sky’s other team, their Classics squad, was off on a tangent in Tenerife, undergoing high-altitude training.
The theory was it had worked for Wiggins and Froome at the Tour de France last year, so why shouldn’t it work for the cobbled classics.
So instead of following the well-worn path of Paris-Nice or Tirreno-Adriatico, Edvald Boasson-Hagen, Geraint Thomas, Matthew Hayman, Ian Stannard and Bernard Eisel went to a small, cobble-less, hilly island off the Spanish mainland.
Thomas admitted it was something ‘a bit different’ but said they ‘would find out in the next month or so’ whether this new approach would work.
Looking at the results, you would say this new approach was a failure.
In Paris-Roubaix, Eisel was the highest placed Sky rider in 12th (+0:50), with Boasson-Hagen 47th (+3:29) and Stannard and Hayman another three seconds down.
Thomas crashed and was held up by others falling and limped home in 79th place at 14:34.
We did see Hayman in a long mid-race break away with Stuart O’Grady, Gert Steegmans and Clement Koretsky, but nearly every time we saw Thomas, he was on the ground ior chasing back. Stannard, Eisel and Boasson-Hagen looked to be making some moves at the race hotted up but none of them could stay in contention.
At the Tour of Flanders, Boasson-Hagen was Sky’s best placed in 17th at 1:39 while Thomas, again afflicted by crashes – was 41st at 2:39.
Luke Rowe and Stannard were next home at 93rd and 103rd respectively at 13:35.
At Ghent-Wavelgem, Eisel managed a credible seventh but that was still 23 seconds behind Peter Sagan. Boasson-Hagen was next best placed in 20th.
And the first-race of cobbled classics, E3 Harelbeke saw Sky bring up their best result with Geraint Thomas claiming fourth, 1:04 down on a rampaging Fabian Cancellara. Boasson-Hagen was ninth at 2:15.
It began so promisingly with Matthew Hayman grabbing third in the semi-classic, and curtain raiser to this cobbled World Tour feast, Dwars door Vlaanderen 2013.
But then results just didn’t materialise.
The obvious question is why?
Clearly you need a lot of luck on the cobbles given you accept crashes are par for the course, and there’s no doubt that ‘G’ endured more than his fair share.
But apart from that, the rest comes down to training.
So was it case of not doing the enough training or not enough of the right training?
Given the way most riders failed to even challenge the top 10, then maybe it was the latter.
The Sky boys just didn’t have the legs.
We saw some simply awful weather conditions in the classics, whereas as the videos from Tenerife looked beautiful, with plenty of sun and not a beanie, pair of gloves or winter riding jacket in sight.
You can see how some Spanish hills in nice weather might compare reasonably with July in France.
But as preparation for a couple of weeks racing in on cold, slippery cobbles?
Maybe judging Sky right now is a little premature, after all the Ardennes Classics are just around the corner.
But right now, it seems they were suffering a little ‘sunstroke’ and this early in the season maybe that’s not the best thing. It will be interesting to see what Sky does this time next year.