Is a third consecutive Team Sky victory in the 2014 Tour de France now impossible?
Within the build-up to the 2014 Tour de France, the most prominent news story – at least in British terms – was Team Sky’s omission of Bradley Wiggins from their nine-strong squad in favour of Chris Froome. Such a choice by Sky’s General Manager Dave Brailsford was glamorised further by the purportedly ongoing “feud” between Wiggins and Froome whose origins lie in the 2012 Tour in which Froome’s loyalty to Wiggin’s eventually successful attempt at winning the yellow jersey was called into question: during the ascent of La Toussuire, Froome, at this point 3rd in the general classification, left behind Wiggins and the rest of the peloton, only to be called back on the team radio.
Since these ignominious beginnings, the highlights reel of their apparent mutual hostility has included Wiggins withholding bonus payments from Froome for the 2012 Tour de France victory, a twitter spat between Froome’s fiancée and Wiggin’s camp over the leadership of the 2013 tour, and most recently (and I should note in answer to an extremely leading question) Froome telling BBC Radio 5 Live that he sensed mental weakness in Wiggins during the 2012 Tour. All this being coupled with the fact that this year’s tour commenced in Britain for the first time since 1974, and moreover with the fact that British riders have won the tour two years on the trot, and it became clear that many British eyes would be on Froome, to see if he could live up to the billing once more.
But alas, as another addition to Britain’s miserable summer of sport (which of course includes Cavendish’s retirement through injury early in the tour), Froome made it to France and then in Stage 4 and 5 fell off his bike several times, the final time fracturing his wrist and hand, and forcing his retirement from this year’s tour. With the wonder of hindsight, questions must be and have been asked, primarily what Wiggins could have offered as a second rider in such an eventuality. Whilst favouring Froome over Wiggins – who is older, has less recent success, and was arguably no less dominant in his tour victory than Froome was in his own – is clearly rational, the decision to omit Wiggins altogether seems to have left Team Sky with no insurance option in terms of an attempt to win the yellow jersey, or at least thus goes the opinion of three-time tour winner Greg LeMond:
“There’s [sic] a lot of risks in this sport, it’s a big budget sport. I think Sky’s got a €20million budget, around $30million, and you’ve got to have insurance on this thing”
Nevertheless, in this land of hope and glory, though certainly a rank outsider compared to the likes of Vincenzo Nibali and Alberto Contador, and though not so much a member of Britain as a member of the Commonwealth, the Australian Richie Porte offers Team Sky a second chance at winning a third consecutive yellow jersey. The decision to have the 29 year old Porte now leading Team Sky is in no way ill-considered; he was Froome’s second rider in the 2013 Tour de France, and was set to be Sky’s leader at the 2014 Giro d’Italia before illness forced him to withdraw. Indeed with the tour soon to take to the mountains, Porte, an expert climber, should be in his element. Without the expectation and the baggage of in-team rivalry which belonged to Froome, Porte, often in the background of Team Sky but seldom absent, has a chance – if not to win – to cement his stake as a soon to be first-choice team leader. With Nibali, the present wearer of the yellow jersey, riding consistently well with the help of his team mate Jakob Fuglsang (currently in second place), and with Contador four minutes behind the race leader, but seemingly biding his time for the more mountainous stages, Porte will have his work cut out to regain the yellow jersey for Team Sky; nonetheless, along with his British team mate Geraint Thomas (another potential future tour winner), Porte looks set to deliver at least some degree of success to Team Sky in this year’s Tour de France.