Team Sky's modus operandi at the Tour de France has been devastatingly effective, but there are repercussions for the foreigners who harbour ambitions en France of their own, writes Anthony Tan.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:38 PM

"We've always set our standards high and been very ambitious with our goals. We want to win the biggest races and constantly improve as a team, and these new riders have the proven experience and developing talent to perform now and in the future."

So said Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford upon the announcement this week that one of the most moneyed teams in the peloton had signed a quintet of quality riders in Andrew Fenn and Woet Poels (from Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Leopold König (Team NetApp-Endura), Lars Petter Nordhaug (Belkin Pro Cycling) and Nicolas Roche (Tinkoff-Saxo) for the 2015 season.

2012 Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins' probable exit midway through next season will allow them to buy another five - or ten - more like them in 2016, given his estimated £3million (A$5.6M) salary he has been paid since winning La Grande Boucle, which effectively doubled between 2012/2013 and remains in place till the end of the year.

No doubt about it, it's a fine team and fine place for riders like Roche and Nordhaug; both 30 years of age, neither will ever win a Grand Tour and they can therefore gloat about being some of the best-paid domestiques in the business, and, based on past performances, will likely do a great job.

It's also a good home for Fenn, where he'll be exposed to a quasi-leadership role in the Classics along with Geraint Thomas, something he never really got the chance to do at OPQS, despite being a junior winner of Paris-Roubaix, and a Scot at Sky is akin to an Aussie at Orica-GreenEDGE. Poels, too, will be granted opportunities in week-long stage races like Tirreno-Adriatico, Catalunya, Basque Country and Critérium du Dauphiné, as well as the Ardennes Classics - though he'll need to keep himself fresh for the Tour in his role as a climbing domestique, if selected.

But for 26 year-old König, the man many said was the revelation of this year's Tour de France after finishing seventh overall in only his second Grand Tour, Team Sky isn't a place you want to be if you harbour ambitions of your own in the world's biggest bike race.


Since its inception in 2010 the raison d'être of Sky has remained unchanged, even if they've already achieved their original ambition of grooming the first British rider to win the Tour de France within a five year period, and, to their credit, done it twice.

As he admitted himself this year Wiggins' Grand Tour days are done; he's well and truly over it. But for Chris Froome, who picked up where Wiggo left off by winning the Tour in 2013, at 29 years the Nairobi-born Brit's just getting started.

Falling then faltering at this year's Tour, he redeemed himself with a second-place overall at the Vuelta a España behind Alberto Contador. It will have provided Froome, and the boffins at Team Sky, with the confidence he can go at the Tour again, full-throttle, for conceivably the next five years. Once Froomey's done the Tour baton will pass to either Thomas or Peter Kennaugh, though given their ages (28 versus 25) more likely the latter, aside from the former's proclivity to pursue the cobbled Classics and his apparent willingness to be a jack-of-all at the Tour and not much more than that.

I, like Cycling Central online editor Phil Gomes, am skeptical about Froome's ability to win another Grand Tour. Contador, at 31, is only a couple of years older and is better in almost every way; 2014 Tour champ Vincenzo Nibali is the same age and growing stronger; and the New Generation led by Nairo Quintana, the Colombian 'Benjamin Button' having already tasted Grand Tour success at this year's Giro, is more than just around the corner - they're in the same street.

Notwithstanding my views on Froome, unless a twist of fate befells him like it did this July, I don't see König getting a chance to lead Sky at the Tour de France.

If he gets the opportunity to lead a team at the Giro, okay, well and good. In just two Grand Tours and never having ridden for a WorldTour team he has already shown more leadership potential than Richie Porte, who, if we're honest, got a little lucky with his first GT outing at the 2010 Giro with that Stage 13 escape to L'Aquila, eventually finishing seventh overall.

But if König is utilised in the same way as Porte at Sky, it will lead to a stagnation in his nascent career, in the same way as happened to Richie. Consequently, I feel it's time for the Tasmanian to reconsider joining Orica-GreenEDGE.

Yes, you can become incredibly strong, but the modus operandi of winning a three-week race from the Sky Handbook - relentless tempo riding at the front till the final mountain, before the leader is left to his own devices - deadens the sharp mind - and legs - required to become a Tour winner in your own right.

Team Sky's strategy is death by attrition, and I can't argue that it hasn't been a very successful one. (I do, however, hold doubts over its sustainability, because in the event of an ambush, which teams like Tinkoff-Saxo and Movistar are prone to do, it leaves them exposed and unable to react with haste.) Yet it also leads to the death of the super-domestique; they become 'Skybots', programmed to kill, though unable to think or act for themselves, which eventually leads to self-immolation.

If the team's foreign riders like König and Porte are to become anything other than Skybots, they must transform, and eventually transfer... Or die.