Here’s #17 in our Team-By-Team rundown of the 2010 season. Enjoy!
#17 – Sky Professional Cycling Team (Preview Ranking: #6 )
What We Said:
Whether you love them or hate them, Team Sky really has done an impressive job of putting together a deep and talented roster. One might resent teams that come out of nowhere, using deep pockets to cherry-pick talented riders from other more established teams; but look at this way: it’s refreshing to see sponsors still willing to take huge financial risks to back top-level teams. With sponsors like Saxo Bank, Milram, and Caisse d’Epargne falling to the wayside, we should welcome Team Sky, if for no other reason than the fact that they’ve taken the risk at all.
Sky’s biggest signing was one of it’s last as the saga over Bradley Wiggins lasted from the Tour well into the off-season. Wiggins gives Sky what it believes to be a serious Tour contender. I beg to differ. While Wiggins might find some success in the Tour, it can’t be counted-on as his performance last year seemed to come out of nowhere. Wiggins will ride the Giro before the Tour; perhaps we’ll have a better sense then of his prospects.
Sky’s real success will likely come from its other acquisitions—men like Edvald Boassen Hagen, Juan-Antonio Flecha, and Simon Gerrans. Boassen Hagen might be the most talented young rider in the sport right now—he’s a top favorite for the Omloop this weekend and could score big in the Tour of Flanders. Sky will also have one of the strongest teams on the line at Paris-Roubaix—maybe Flecha finally gets his big win. Hagen, Hayman, and yes, Brad Wiggins, will prove to be valuable domestiques on the pavé. In the Ardennes, Gerrans will get his chance to improve on his top-10 finishes before embarking on yet another bid for Grand Tour stage wins.
All in all, it’s a deeply talented squad, with many men capable of taking wins here and there. If I were Sky, I’d take an approach similar to BMC, focusing on the Classics and the Giro, reserving Tour success for the icing on the cake. But I’m not the one writing the checks now, am I?
Man of the Hour: Edvald Boassen Hagen’s on the verge of a major victory (as if Ghent-Wevelgem wasn’t enough). And at 22 years of age, he hasn’t even approached the ceiling of his potential.
On the Hot Seat: Both Wiggins and Flecha have been given chances to lead a team in their targeted races. Can they deliver the goods?
Up-and-Comer: I could try and list another rider, but Boassen Hagen’s the best young rider in the sport—and he’s 22! Incredible.
Best Pick-Up: The fact that Dave Brailsford was able to pick-up a sponsor willing to foot the bill for such a team is pretty impressive. Without Sky’s support, a roster like this would never be possible.
Biggest Loss: Dignity. Did you see Sky’s skinsuits from Australia? More should be left for the imagination.
What We Saw:
I’m expecting some criticism for Sky’s low ranking, but looking back on their season, can you blame me? I guess it’s what I get for optimistically ranking them so high in February.
Indeed, Sky started the season on a high note, winning races in Australia, Qatar, and Oman before taking the season’s first major semi-classic thanks to Juan Antonio Flecha’s inspiring performance in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. At the time, it seemed anything was possible—as if the sky were the limit, I guess you could say. But things started to unravel.
Greg Henderson, Edvald Boasson Hagen, and Russell Downing followed Flecha’s success by taking stages in Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico, and the Criterium International, respectively; but aside from Flecha’s third-place in Paris-Roubaix, the team largely underwhelmed in the cobbled classics and was completely anonymous in the Ardennes. As a matter of fact, the team won no races between Downing’s Criterium International win on March 28th and Bradley Wiggins’ win in the Stage 1 of the Giro on May 9th.
Still, hopes were high. Wiggins looked to be rounding himself into form, and there was nice new pink jersey to defend—until there wasn’t. In hindsight, while he probably wouldn’t admit it, sending Wiggins to the Giro was probably a huge mistake. The poor weather, long transfers, and difficult final week likely wreaked havoc on anyone not clearly peaking for or sandbagging the event—Wiggins would have been better served at home. Or in California. Or anywhere other than in what has become the hardest grand tour on the calendar.
Soon came June and only Ben Swift had added to the team’s win tally since the first day of the Giro. Boasson Hagen was racing and looking fit—he would win the final stage of the Dauphine before heading to the Tour as an outside contender for the green jersey.
Then July hit and—nothing.
Wiggo’s implosion has been well-documented, but it’s safe to say that it’s far from what was hoped. Adding insult to injury, the team took no stages (not to worry guys, Garmin’s been waiting for years and Milram came and went without ever doing it).
Post-Tour, Russell Downing took the Tour de Wallonie and Boasson Hagen—finally having regained a glimmer of his 2009 fitness—took a win at the Dutch Valley Food Classic before finishing second at the Vattenfall Cyclassics to Tyler Farrar. The only high points to follow were Henderson’s stages at ENECO and the Tour of Britain, Wiggo’s second win of the year—the British ITT Championship.
Suffice it to say, 2010 was not the season Sky had expected. Yes, it was their first year, but given the publicity, the hype, and the talent, we can be forgiven for having expected more.
Most Valuable Rider: Bradley Wiggins gets the nod if for no other reason than the fact that his Tour aspirations took a bit of the pressure off the rest of the team to perform. In 2011, with the Tour veil lifted, Sky will certainly expect more from the rest of its roster.
Biggest Disappointment: I know we shouldn’t go around giving wins simply because teams and riders deserve them, but for all they invested over the course of the season, it would have been nice to see Sky score at least a stage win in this year’s Tour de France.
Biggest Surprise: Admit it, you found yourself a bit surprised to see British Champion Geraint Thomas trading pulls with Fabian Cancellara and Thor Hushovd in the final cobbled hour of Stage 3 at the Tour. But there he was—and he finished second.
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