Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford believes the Vuelta a Espana marked a turning point in his team’s Grand Tour fortunes and insists the British outfit is capable of putting a rider on the top step of the podium.
Sky formed ahead of the 2010 season with the aim of winning the Tour de France within five years, but team leader Bradley Wiggins, who finished fourth in 2009 with Garmin, struggled to 24th in Sky’s debut Tour before crashing out on stage seven with a broken collarbone in July.
But Chris Froome and Wiggins became the first two Britons to finish on the same podium at a Grand Tour in Madrid on Sunday, finishing second and third respectively behind Juan Jose Cobo at the Vuelta.
“It’s never been done before by two Brits so it’s very, very pleasing,” said Brailsford. “It’s a sign of just how far we are moving forward and just how well Team Sky are performing this year to achieve an historical result like that.
“Obviously we’d have liked to be on the top step but credit to the guys, they’ve both done fantastic races.
“It was a breakthrough performance from Chris Froome. We’ve always known from training that Chris produces fantastic power and great numbers. He’s done that back-to-back in a consistent way over the three weeks here.
“Bradley was being operated on for a broken collarbone only eight weeks ago so it’s a remarkable turnaround. For him to perform at this level against some of the best riders in the world is an achievement in itself.
“We set out wanting to be the first team that puts a British rider on the top step of a Grand Tour and we’ve come a long, long way and as close as we could possibly get to that which gives us great confidence looking ahead to the three Grand Tours next year.”
Wiggins returned to action from his eight-week lay-off ahead of the Vuelta, but Froome proved the surprise package, matching the three-time Olympic gold medallist throughout the first week, before assuming the leader’s jersey after finishing second on the stage 10 individual time trial.
But the Kenyan-born rider continued to ride in support of Wiggins, relinquishing the red jersey to his team-mate on stage 11, before Juan Jose Cobo (Geox-TMC), who started the race as a domestique for Denis Menchov, assumed control with victory in the race’s queen stage on the feared climb of the Angliru.
Froome continued to attack the Spaniard throughout the final week, winning the stage 17 summit finish en-route, but Cobo matched the 26-year-old to record his Grand Tour victory by 13 seconds.
“I’m over the moon and it was an experience of a lifetime,” said Froome, who is out of contract at the end of the season. “Over the last week when it became clear that my early form and time trial performance were not one-off results I really began to enjoy myself and came to the realization that I can now compete with some of the best GC riders in the world.
“It’s been really enjoyable and the best thing has been having my family over here to see me in the red jersey and also win a stage. The highlight for me was definitely winning that seventeenth stage at the top of the Pena Cabarga climb; it was a special day and will live long in my memory.”
Wiggins finished one minute, 39 seconds behind Cobo and the 31-year-old admits his third-place finish in the final Grand Tour of the season has helped restore his confidence ahead of next year’s Tour de France.
“Thinking back to where I was a couple of months ago it’s a fantastic feeling to finish on the podium here and obviously it’s a massive result for the team to have Froomey on the podium with me too,” reflected Wiggins.
“With my shoulder as it was this race was always going to be a bit of a testing ground for me and I’m really happy with the way I’ve been able to ride.
“This race has proved that what happened two years ago at the Tour de France was no fluke and I know in my mind now that I have what it takes to match strong riders at the Tour next year.”