Team Sky’s ‘engine room’ will be crucial to the squad’s twin goals at this year’s Tour De France, according to team principal, Dave Brailsford.
He stressed the importance of total commitment to supporting roles if the team are to compete for overall victory with Bradley Wiggins and green jersey success for Mark Cavendish.
“You’ve got the fast team, as it were, your summit team, and then you’ve got your engine room in the middle.
“What’s going to make this thing work or fail is your engine room; it’s not necessarily the calibre of the riders either side,” he said.
“One of the biggest criteria is the selflessness and the ability to be a team player and the ability to take on without question the role that is given to them, and then 100 per cent commit to it.
“The most important bit is acceptance: that somebody genuinely inside themselves accepts the role that they have been given. That’s the make or break factor.
“So we want guys who may be have slightly less ability, but who are going to 100 per cent accept it.
“That’s what’s going to be one of the most important and defining factors of our Tour, I think.”
He identified Xabier Zandio, Danny Pate, Christian Knees, and Kanstantsin Siutsou, as teammates who could support ‘fast’ riders like Mark Cavendish and Edvald Boasson Hagen and climbers like Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome.
“It’s like any team, you want it to gel. You don’t want a team of stars, you want a star team, and in order for that to happen, you need people willing to sacrifice themselves and not think about individual personalities.
“You’re there for the jersey to win. All we’re interested in is a Team Sky jersey crossing the line first, and who’s wearing it doesn’t really matter. If everyone buys into that philosophy, and helps out and gels the team together, that’s the most important thing,” he said.
Brailsford decribed Wiggins’ triumph at Paris-Nice, where he sealed victory on the closing day’s time trial, as ‘significant’ and compared it favourably to what had previously been the Londoner’s greatest accomplishment on the road: victory at the 2011 Criterium du Dauphine.
“He was so assured in his Paris-Nice ride, epitomised by the way he rode that time trial at the end. For me anyway, from a performance point of view, it was very, very impressive and very significant.
“To be able to sustain a high-level time trial at the end of a race is significant. He’s getting better at that, for sure,” he said.
He ranked Wiggins’ performance in France among an ‘A+’ start to the season for Team Sky, and praised Cavendish’s victories at the Tour of Qatar and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne as success against a ‘double whammy’ of joining a new team and wearing the world champion’s jersey.
“If he had the world’s jersey at HTC, that would have been a challenge in itself. He’s got the world’s jersey and a change of team and he’s still managed to win. I think Kuurne went really well. He was disappointed with San Remo, I think everybody knows that, and he was actually good the following week [at Gent Wevelgem] and we could have supported him a bit better, I think. So, I would actually say Mark’s done very well, and we’re very happy with how he’s performed,” he said.
Cavendish and Wiggins will race together for the first time in Team Sky colours at next week’s Tour of Romandie. Brailsford admitted that the team would be forced to prioritise at the Tour De France, but suggested the decision to pursue sprint victories or overall victory would be made close to the race, and would depend on the condition of individual riders.
“We know Mark can win the green. He’s done it before, there’s no reason why he can’t do it again. But if we genuinely think we’re going to be in the mix for winning his race, we’re going to be left with a call, I think.
“We’re going to have to prioritise possibly.
“Let’s say Bradley crashes the week before, it doesn’t look great, no-one looks great, and we’re we might be thinking, ‘We can get a top 15 here,’ you might say, ‘Actually guys, we’re going to bias this towards stage wins.’
“If it’s the other way, you have to bias it the other way, and I think that’s what we’ll do. As we get closer, we’ll know pretty much where we’re at,” he said.