Sir Dave Brailsford and Team Sky have spoken confidently at a pre-race press conference in Leeds, with the team manager dismissing the notion of riding to “defend” Chris Froome’s title, insisting that their objective is to “win it for a third time.”
In a bullish performance at a gathering of the world’s media just days before the 101st Tour de France, Brailsford described arriving in Yorkshire for the Grand Départ of cycling’s greatest race with a British rider as reigning champion as the “pinnacle” of a 15-year project to turn Great Britain into a cycling nation.
And Froome, who last year won the centennial edition of the race after finishing second to Sir Bradley Wiggins the year before, said he and his team had “put themselves through hell” to prepare for this year’s race and an encounter with a resurgent Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo).
Froome acknowledged the Spaniard’s return to form, but denied that training in close proximity to the multiple Grand Tour winner on Tenerife’s Mount Teide had presented a psychological challenge.
“I think Alberto has shown he’s in a much more competitive position this year than he was last year. His run up to the Tour de France has certainly been a lot smoother and he’s managed to get a lot more results early season,” Froome said.
“I think as with a lot of my main rivals and the main contenders here, everyone seems to have upped their game and you’re going to be looking at a really exciting Tour this year.”
He refused to be drawn into speculation about a likely winner, but also refused to rule himself out of contention. The diverse nature of the parcours, with a cobbled stage, five summit finishes, and a 54km time trial, made such predictions impossible, he argued, and pointed instead to the work he and his eight team-mates had done in preparing for the race.
“No doubt about it, we’re going to have a lot of tough competition this year, and as I’ve seen in other races, it’s not going to be a walk in the park by any means. I’ve got a really, really strong team here, probably the strongest team we’ve had for the Tour de France, and we’re up for it,” Froome said.
“It’s not easy getting ready for a Tour de France. You’ve got to put yourself through hell to put yourself on the start line here and be ready to go for three weeks. I really do feel that each one of the nine guys here has done that and we’re ready for this.”
In a controversial selection that omitted 2012 winner, Wiggins, and newly-crowned British road race champion, Peter Kennaugh, Froome is one of just two home riders in the team, alongside Geraint Thomas. The Welshman was asked to describe the challenge of riding almost the entire three-week race with a broken pelvis last year. “It hurt a lot,” he said.
In a robust performance, Brailsford restated Sky’s credentials as a clean team that “played by the rules”.
“We race clean, we’ve won this race with two different riders clean, and that’s what we’ll continue to do,” he said.
And the Welshman, who masterminded two dominant Olympic campaigns on the track for Great Britain, before managing the successful campaign on the road of the nation’s first winner of the Tour de France, dismissed the notion of “defending” the title of reigning champion, Froome.
“I don’t really agree with the idea of defending anything to be honest. I think in sport you try and win things, you don’t try and defend things. Once we’ve won the Tour de France twice, what we’re now trying to do is win the Tour de France a third time.”
Should Team Sky not win the race this year, they would attempt to win the race again in 2015, he continued, but seemingly with little thought of anything other than victory at this year’s race.
“We’re up for it, we’re ready for the fight, and can’t wait to get going,” Brailsford said. “We’ll give it our best shot, and what will be, will be.”
Hevdescribed the surreal sight of a road sign on the MI warning motorists of the possibility of delays “due to the Tour de France”.
The Team Sky chief said the Yorkshire Grand Depart represented the pinnacle of a 15-year journey to turn Great Britain into a cycling nation.
“We started out with an ambition around the Olympic Games, and then we moved on to Team Sky, and an ambition of trying to build a team to win the Tour de France, trying to win the Tour with a British rider, and trying to do it clean.
“We also had another ambition which was to try and get 1m people in this country cycling regularly, and last week there were 2.1m people cycling at least once a week and that cements where we’ve got to – that we’ve become a cycling nation in many respects.”