For the most part of 2013, Team Sky has morphed into a dominating team with an artillery of powerful domestiques, and on the eve of the 2013 Tour de France that looks set to continue.
More often than not through March, April, May, and June, they monotonously, yet exhilaratingly, controlled pelotons over the world and road their riders into the ground.
Their abilities shone in dominating any short tour they entered with relative ease; the likes of Vasil Kiryienka and David López García, as well as many others, outweighing their weight in gold when called to help out on the front.
Now, with Chris Froome looming as overall Tour de France favourite to anyone who thinks they know anything about cycling, surely Team Sky will look toward their phenomenally strong workmen to take their designated positions on the front of the peloton, as they have done all year long.
I have a quarrel though; the tactics of Team Sky can become so damn boring. The reason being as follows: Team Sky seems to breed Time Trialling Climbers (TTCs).
These guys have less acceleration than normal but more power against the clock.
Trained to sustain high wattage for long periods of time, the main benefit is in their time trialling, as long as they don’t start making vicous accelerations their climbing improves as well.
That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t train accelerations or ‘on/off repetition’ efforts, it just happens to be that Froome, Wiggins, and Porte, all happen to be amazing time trial riders (on the other hand, those Columbians are another breed all together and I’m not going to go there).
All this said, TTCs are theoretically less likely to be able to follow a series of sharp and debilitating attacks (from the swatch of aggressive Spanish mountain goats), but would benefit more from adapting a consistent pace to try monitor and calculate, their effort.
This makes for less aggressive, more controlled racing. Team Sky stick all their brutally strong workers on the front and whither everyone away, leaving Froome to make just one concise blow at the finish. Boring, right?
It’s not a new fad though, this whole ‘control movement.’ Lance Armstrong (remember him?) tended to implore this of his team at any given moment, but it’s painfully difficult to compare racing back then to what it is now.
Those guys seemed to be able to go on the attack with 10-15km of ascent to go (Sestriere, 1999) and not seem to worry so much about exploding, like the proverbial supernova.
So Armstrong generally just knifed the peloton at the base of the final climb with one or two phenomenal Spaniards at his disposal, and then we were always in for a great spectacle.
It’s different nowadays, racing is different; riders crack easier, race slower, and more often realize their limits before their motivation expected to.
I must admit it though, just because Team Sky’s approach is little more than calculated perfection, it is undoubtedly a beautiful spectacle to watch in another sense.
Just as their Tenerife altitude house probably sits equipped with all the gizmos and gadgets ready to tell the riders exactly how tired, skinny, happy, or twisted they are at any given moment, their Director Sportif sits in the car barking orders from a script drawn up by the hardest of the European cycling fraternity from the past hundred years.
It’s like that old animation creation, The Triplets of Belleville (worth a viewing if you haven’t already).
They’re out there being whipped like workhorses, and it’s what we all love to see.
The debate over whether this scientific approach to cycling is ruining the sport has been interesting to watch over the past few years.
Whether the thrill of panache and uncalculated aggression is becoming lost in a sea of regression analysis’ and standard variations, is up for debate.
Some say cycling’s not like it used to be, it’s ‘killing the sport.’ I too agree it becomes ‘boring’ on occasion, but I know it is just as much full of beauty.
Cycling has always been about extracting the most out of your body as possible, pushing physiological ability further than ever before and searching for the limits.
Just because riders are less animalistic and reckless in their tactical choices than they once were, doesn’t mean the sport is dying.
Even though some old-school Italians might not like to admit it, our sport is evolving, and modern day tactics seem to be a part of that inevitable calculated progression.
The science we embrace encapsulates cycling as the sport that is always pushing the limits of the human body, and this is an inspiring thing.
The near-microscopic gains we caress so dearly in cycling are incalculable in almost any other sport, yet we witness them on countless occasions in cycling; a perfect example being when Evans lost the ’08 Tour by 58 seconds after 3,559km of racing!
So yes, even though Team Sky are a carefully conjured, mathematic calculation of talent and hard work, it’s not only boring but also very exciting.
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