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Comment: Sky’s the limit after Wout Poels breaks Monument duck

Team Sky take big step towards fulfilling Sir Dave Brailsford's "2020 Vision"

When Team Sky chief Sir Dave Brailsford announced, ahead of last season, Team Sky’s aim to be the undisputed best cycling team in the world, it was a very bold statement of intent.

Two Tour de France wins, alongside podium finishes at both the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana, and multiple victories at Paris-Nice, the Tour de Romandie and Criterium du Dauphine had certainly set the tone in their first half-decade.

But there was one major omission from the team’s palmares, namely victory in one of cycling’s five Monuments – the biggest one-day races of the year.

Wout Poels, Team Sky, salute, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, 2016, pic - Sirotti
Wout Poels sprinted to victory at Liege-Bastogne-Liege – his and Team Sky’s first ever Monument win (pic: Sirotti)

And, despite Chris Froome’s Tour de France victory last year, and multiple wins besides, that remained the case ahead of this season.

But Wout Poels’ victory at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, from a four-man break, finally ended Team Sky’s long wait for a Monument win and could well set the tone for plenty more to come.

By 2020, Sir Dave outlined last year, Team Sky want to be not just the world’s premier cycling team but one of the world’s foremost sports teams too.

And with the monkey off the back – from perhaps an unlikely source – it should be an ominous sign for their rivals from now on.

  • Team Sky firsts

  • First win: Greg Henderson (Tour Down Under Classic 2010)
  • First ProTour win: Chris Sutton (Tour Down Under 2010, stage six)
  • First semi-Classic win: Juan Antonio Flecha (Omloop Het Niuewsblad 2010)
  • First British win: Russell Downing (Criterium International 2010, stage two)
  • First Grand Tour stage win: Bradley Wiggins (Giro d’Italia 2010, prologue)
  • First stage race win: Ben Swift (Tour de Picardie 2010)
  • First WorldTour stage race win: Bradley Wiggins (Criterium du Dauphine 2011)
  • First Grand Tour win: Bradley Wiggins (Tour de France 2012)
  • First Monument win: Wout Poels (Liege-Bastogne-Liege 2016)

Poels has proved himself a valuable addition to the Team Sky roster since joining from Etixx-QuickStep last year, but it was Michal Kwiatkowski expected to lead their Ardennes Classics charge.

With Sergio Henao – a multiple top-ten finisher at the Ardennes Classics – withdrawn from competition, it seemed even more likely it would be former world champion Kwiato leading the Sky charge.

But Poels stepped up in style when the team needed him – proving Team Sky’s strength in depth and justifying Brailsford’s confidence that the British team can challenge year-round.

The Dutchman, 28, has already proved a valuable return for Sky, with stage wins at the Tour of Britain and Tirreno-Adriatico last year, alongside a leading role as domestique for Froome at the Tour de France.

This season he stepped it up further, winning two stages and overall at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, alongside a stage win at the Volta a Catalunya.

He was in good shape ahead of Liege-Bastogne-Liege, too, finishing fourth at La Fleche Wallonne in Kwiatkowski’s absence.

When Kwiatkowski took a big pull on the front of the peloton on the Cote de Saint Nicolas, it became apparent the Pole would not be the man leading Team Sky in the finale though.

And Poels seized the initiative in perfect style – planting himself on Michael Albasini’s wheel in the race-winning selection and sprinting to victory.

Team Sky’s reaction in the team bus said it all – this victory has been a long time coming.

A podium finish in their debut season at Paris-Roubaix showed what could be done, with Juan Antonio Flecha finishing third, but before the start of this season only two other Sky riders had been on a Monument podium.

  • Monument podiums

  • Juan Antonio Flecha, third at Paris-Roubaix 2010
  • Rigoberto Uran, third at Giro di Lombardia 2012
  • Ben Swift, third at Milan-San Remo 2014
  • Ben Swift, second at Milan-San Remo 2016
  • Ian Stannard, third at Paris-Roubaix 2016
  • Wout Poels, Liege-Bastogne-Liege winner 2016

Rigoberto Uran’s third at the Giro di Lombardia in 2012 and Ben Swift doing the same at Milan-San Remo 2014 were exceptions to the rule that Team Sky repeatedly failed to shine at the biggest one-day races.

Plenty of riders have raised hopes – Geraint Thomas, for example, after multiple top-ten finishes on the cobbles and an E3 Harelbeke victory – but none have conquered what has been the final frontier for Team Sky.

Ian Stannard also has semi-Classics wins to his name, and Luke Rowe is edging closer to success on the cobbles too.

The signing of Kwiatkowski also promised much – especially after his E3 Harelbeke win this year.

Indeed, something has changed this season, with Sky seemingly getting closer and closer to  that elusive first Monument.

Their record before Sunday was second at Milan-San Remo, thanks to Swift, fifth at the Tour of Flanders through Rowe and third at Paris-Roubaix courtesy of Stannard.

Wout Poels has finally broken the Monument duck, and Team Sky will be hoping of breaking down more barriers this season now.

First among those will be the Giro d’Italia, where Mikel Landa will lead Team Sky fresh from his Giro del Trentino victory.

Wout Poels, Team Sky, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, 2016, pic - Sirotti
Poels realises the enormity of his achievement as he celebrates post-race (pic: Sirotti)

Success at any level breeds success, and if Landa can carry that winning feeling on the sky’s the limit for Team Sky.

All of a sudden, those bold claims by Sir Dave Brailsford last season do not seem that far out of reach.

 

Photo gallery: Team Sky’s first wins and Monument podiums

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