It worked a treat for two years with unabashed success in stage races; for one reason or another, it's stopped working. Depending on how events unfold at the 2015 Santos Tour Down Under, it may be time to rewrite the manual from the Book of Sky, writes Anthony Tan from Mount Barker, South Australia.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:39 PM

What we saw yesterday en route to Paracombe were typical tactics from the Team Sky Handbook.

Since Bradley Wiggins' superlative 2012 season, where he won Paris-Nice, Tour de Romandie, Critérium du Dauphiné, and of course, the Tour de France, these typical tactics have been employed to devastating effect.

Season 2013 was no different for Sky Procycling. Only this time, Christopher Froome, Wiggins' team-mate-turned-archrival, was the man responsible for their spate of successs, winning the Tour of Oman, Critérium International, Romandie, Dauphiné, and, once again, Le Tour.

The tactic can be summed up as thus: death by attrition.

Between MBA-qualified team principal Dave Brailsford and ex-swim coach Tim Kerrison, both very much numbers men, the pair devised what they believed to be a winning formula for stage races.

First, adopt a singularly focused, one leader, one goal, approach. Then buy a bunch of the best domestiques in the business. On key mountain stages, particularly those that finish uphill, set a tempo just below threshold, thereby stifling any long-range attacks, and maintain it till the final kilometres of the last climb; it would then be up to the designated leader to either follow moves or make one of his own. Proficiency in the time trial, invariably a key component of a stage race, would consolidate or augment the marginal gains.

Over the course of a week, or three weeks, the marginal gains would become a major advantage - demonstrated by Wiggins' 6'19 buffer over third-placed Vincenzo Nibali when he and Froome went 1-2 in '12, and Froome's 4'20 winning margin over runner-up Nairo Quintana in 2013.

So long as they rode as one, the strategy seemed to work. With one of the biggest budgets in the business - certainly, one of the three most-moneyed WorldTour teams - they could afford to buy super-domestiques who, on many other teams would be leaders, or co-leaders at the very least.

One of those super-domestiques is Richie Porte.

Occasionally, these highly remunerated 'super-dommies' would be given a chance of their own. Though never at the Tour de France, unless through circumstance, as happened last July when Chris Froome crashed out en route to Arenberg.

Sickness played a significant role in Porte's demise at the 2014 Tour - but I can't help but feel Sky's style of racing, which appears to deaden one's race nous, also played a small part there and a large part yesterday on Paracombe.

From we saw, as well as what a number of riders said afterwards, Porte was clearly the strongest - so why the need to attack so early?


Orica-GreenEDGE head sport director Matt White, who many of his peers consider a brilliant tactician, told me yesterday in Norwood: "The bottom's so steep, I don't think anyone will go from the bottom because it's too far.

"It goes up the climb and it looks like that's the top - it's about 600 metres (to go) - and I think that's where people will start to go."

Just ahead of the kilometre kite, Rohan Dennis, seeing the cat-and-mouse between Porte, Cadel Evans and Tom Dumoulin, could not have chosen a more opportune moment; his threshold-level training for the hour-record, slated for February 8 in Switzerland, now a fortnight away, enabling him to hold a three-second advantage over his teammate Evans and Dumoulin. With time bonuses, his GC advantage to the aforementioned is seven and nine seconds, respectively.

Fifteen seconds - the distance between race leader Dennis and Porte, who sits fourth overall - might not sound like very much, but it's worth remembering that Evans lost the TDU by a solitary second last year, and in 2012 Simon Gerrans and Alejandro Valverde finished on the same time, the former winning on countback of stage placings.

TDUs in years past have been won and lost by similarly small margins.

Porte can still win. But only if Dennis, Evans and Dumoulin - all highly credentialed in the individual time trial; a discipline where one trains specifically not to blow - implode on Willunga.

Depending on how Saturday and the rest of the season pans out for them, it could be time to rewrite, or at least revise, the Team Sky Handbook.