Sky ‘steamroller’ expected to crush Froome’s rivals

DUSSELDORF, Germany (AFP) — When Chris Froome’s Tour de France rivals roll up to the start line in Dusseldorf on Saturday, they will be worrying not only about how to beat the Briton, but also his Sky team.

Sky has won four of the last five Tours (Bradley Wiggins in 2012 and Froome three times since), and in race the team, as much as the victor, has proved too strong for the opposition.

Never was that more evident than last year when Sky managed to all but kill any suspense and drama by taking a stranglehold of the race from start to finish.

Froome only looked vulnerable twice during that race. He was knocked off his bicycle on Mont Ventoux by a stopped motorcycle, forced to famously run for a few hectic moments. Later, he crashed on a wet and slippery descent on stage 19.

However, he hardly lost any time in either incident. Usually, he had his all-powerful Sky teammates surrounding him to keep him out of trouble.

On that 19th stage when disaster could have struck, Wout Poels remained alongside Froome. The Dutchman guided him safely to the finish.

On stage 11, Froome had Welshman Geraint Thomas to thank for helping him latch onto an attack by Peter Sagan. They took advantage of crosswinds and stole some time on his rivals.

Once again, Sky looks to be bringing a formidable squad to the race, even if Poels is not among them.

“Not having Wout here is a big change. He was a big part of my victory last year and certainly we’re going to miss him,” said Froome.

Former world champion Michal Kwiatkowski of Poland will be riding as a domestique for Froome. Thomas and Spaniard Mikel Landa, who had led the team at May’s Giro d’Italia, will provide chief support in the mountains. The latter two suffered from crashes at the Giro that wrecked their overall hopes. They have quickly switched to domestique duties.

‘Extremely strong’

Alongside those three, Froome will also count on Spanish veteran Mikel Nieve and Colombian Sergio Henao to help negotiate the toughest climbs. “We have an extremely strong team in the mountains, if you look at the other GC teams, I definitely feel confident going into the climbs,” Froome said.

On the flats, former world time trial champion Vasil Kiryienka of Belarus, Briton Luke Rowe, and German Christian Knees will supply the power to keep Froome out of trouble.

It is a imposing outfit which the French describe as a “steamroller.”

And while Sky’s strength may not make for great racing, it is crucial to helping Froome dominate.

“It’s true that Team Sky’s most common tactic is to impose a tempo at the front of the peloton that discourages my rivals from attacking me,” said Froome in the official race guide. “This doesn’t necessarily produce the best spectacle but, from our point of view, it’s the ideal way to keep events under control.”

Last year, Sky sucked the life out of the race but despite their strength, there are at least enough unknowns in bike racing to keep things interesting.

In 2014, for example, Froome’s team could do nothing as he crashed three times in the wet over two days and was forced out of the race with a broken wrist.

He was also badly exposed once in 2013 when he lost all his teammates on a crazy stage, although his rivals failed to capitalize as they raced each other for the minor placings, rather than trying to put Froome under pressure.

If Froome’s rivals are going to have a chance this time around, they need to first find a way to negate Sky’s strength, and that’s not something that has happened often these last five years.

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