No one wants Plan A to go awry, but when it does, reactions speak volumes. After each losing their team leader, a starker contrast between the reactions of Team Sky and Team Tinkoff Saxo could not exist. I place responsibility for these reactions quite squarely at the feet of team management…
Riis and Co (Riis) chose a Plan A team for a Plan A leader. After losing Contador and his right hand man Jesus Hernandez, results still came. Majka’s Stage 14 win; Majka grabs the polka dot jersey; Michael Rogers’ Stage 16 win; Majka’s Stage 17 win and finally, Majka keeping the polka dot jersey until Paris. The polka dot jersey competition was no consolation prize this year, but an ardent battle with Rodriguez behind only by one point prior to Majka’s stage 17 win. On this stage, Rodriguez gained 24 points compared to Majka’s 10 over the first three climbs, but it was Riis’ tactical knowledge that proved the difference:
“Bjarne told me not to go for the King of the Mountain points (on the first three climbs), he said ‘wait, wait, wait, you’ll get double points at the finish’,” said Majka.
The comments after each of Saxo’s stage wins shared a similar theme; Riis at the start of the day targeting the stage with the rider.
Riis transformed Majka from his public grumpiness at Tour selection, to be a little more accepting of the news just before the Tour, to ultimately believe he could not only win a stage, but be crowned a Tour de France King of the Mountains.
The shots on Instagram, Twitter etc. showed a team happy with their achievements, celebrating as a team, with Contador, as passionate as Cav, cheering from afar. None of it felt like forced PR. From this point of view at least, this was a team with heart. A success in itself after the blow of losing Contador.
Sky chose largely a Plan B team for a Plan A rider.
Brailsford and Co’s (Brailsford) non selection of Wiggins was a failure on many levels. Fans and Sky biased pundits shout “but he would not have brought team unity for Froome.” That Brailsford had not managed this situation in the first place and then was scared to manage it during the Tour, so much so, he left out an in form rider at the expense of including some less in form ones, screams poor management. Whether Wiggins would’ve won a stage or survived the mountains is not valid here, he was clearly in form and should’ve been there.
Peter Kennaugh, who won the British national road championships just before the Tour was also not included. After going on to win the Tour of Austria and speaking at the Commonwealth Games, Kennaugh publicly criticised Team Sky management:
“I feel like I’ve already proved what I can do, I don’t feel like I need to prove myself anymore. It’s starting to get frustrating when the team says things like ‘you need to go and prove yourself,’ said Kennaugh.
Team Sky of course couldn’t help Porte getting sick, but don’t forget Saxo lost Hernandez too. It would also be interesting to see if Sky were being truthful about Porte’s numbers before the Tour given his lack of race days.
Brailsford selected some less in form riders, but also mismanaged those in form. For example, Kiryienka’s hearty digs in the mountains should’ve been better managed tactically.
Earlier in the tour when both Contador and Froome had abandoned, I thought it’s quite easy to pick on Team Sky and felt it was unfair. After all, Tinkoff Saxo seemed to only have a Plan A in Contador. But now looking back, I see it is justifiably easy.
Team Sky were not even close to picking up a stage win or a grab at a jersey. The PR seemed forced and morale was quite clearly low, the heart had been spread sheeted out of the team.
Brasilford however was successful at one thing, at least from this point of view: massaging the ego of a rider he made larger than the team and its sponsors. Perhaps Brailsford is just not built for the road.