Rather than reminisce about one of his favourite 1980s Australian pub rock bands, Anthony Tan borrows its name to describe an increasingly familiar modus operandi when it comes to the stage race milieu in professional road cycling.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:39 PM

What most pundits took out of the recently compeleted Vuelta a Andalucía was that archrivals Alberto Contador and Chris Froome, the eventual winner by two seconds, are at a similar level, which bodes more excitement for the months ahead.

The Spaniard, who this season is attempting the rare (at least by modern day standards) Giro-Tour double, says he's a maybe little behind compared to the same time the year previous. The Kenyan, or Brit, or Kenyan-born Brit, who is seeking redemption after he and Contador left last year's Tour prematurely, and is targeting Le Tour and only Le Tour, says he's right where he needs to be.

What I took out of the Andalucian affair, however, was something quite different.

The Team Sky of today continue to ride like the Team Sky of yesterday: control proceedings till the final climb, then unleash the climbing clones as they pedal metronomically till the point of failure; then, and only then, let the real battle begin.

But now, the Tinkoff-Saxo of today are also riding like the Team Sky of today and yesterday - no more apparent then the third stage in Andalucia, as told by Contador, the day's victor, and his sports director Steven de Jongh.

"We really have to thank especially (Michael) Valgren, (Matteo) Tosatto and (Evgeni) Petrov, who worked so hard during the entire stage and on a difficult parcours as well. They brought the team in a perfect position before the climb," de Jongh said in a team statement following the stage.

"Ivan (Basso) then did a really nice move, showing his experience, and Alberto finished it off by showing his instinct for knowing when to attack. It was a part of the plan but the guys also did a great job in executing the strategy and finding the precise moments to put on the pressure. I'm proud of the teamwork today; it was a thorough job done by the boys."

Perhaps that is the small but subtle difference between Team Sky and Tinkoff-Saxo.

As a whole, the teams ride identically, but one leader rides almost exclusively on numbers, the other almost always on instinct - exemplified by Contador's decision last Friday to attack on the Hazallanas climb in the Sierra Nevada: "After the short descent halfway up the final climb, I saw that (Sergio) Paulinho had stretched the peloton and Basso then created a gap by pulling hard. So I decided to go early, accelerate and go alone. I knew it would be difficult to catch me, I felt good, and I wanted to repay my teammates with a win."

Finding the right moment. Feeling the right moment. Relying on instinct. Harnessing emotion. Sentiments oft heard by Contador but rarely by Froome, whose repetitive glances down at his bike computer then at the wheel or road ahead exhibit a Tourette's-like quality.

The Cyclingnews reportage from the next day in Andalucía, when, on the climb of Alto de Allanadas, Froome turned the tables and blew El Pistolero out the back door, encapsulates the same-but-different nuances between the two teams and their leaders.

"After early pace-setting from his Sky teammate Nicolas Roche, and brief digs from both Peter Kennaugh and Mikel Nieve, Froome – wearing the blue points jersey for the day – took up the baton with a shade over two kilometres remaining, launching a rasping attack just as the gradient stiffened.

"Contador, in the red of race leader, moved swiftly onto Froome's wheel and the two duly motored away from the remnants of the leading group, locked in a race all of their own. Barely 200 metres later, however, Contador was suddenly floundering, unable to match the infernal rhythm being imposed by his rival.

"Froome took one lingering look over his shoulder before again fixing his gaze upon the power-meter on top of his handlebars."

Still, should we really be surprised similarly moneyed squads like Tinkoff-Saxo, Astana and BMC are taking a leaf out of the Team Sky handbook? It may not be the most spectacular way to win, but it is arguably the safest, and as the saying goes, there's safety in numbers; admittedly, when so much is on the line, safety is invariably the best option.

Furthermore, this off-season past, Tinkoff-Saxo recruited a number of former Team Sky employees including Bobby Julich and Sean Yates (now senior members of their coaching coterie), and previous to that, took on former Sky capitaine du route, Michael Rogers, from the 2013 season onwards, who has since proven an invaluable asset.

Conversely, Sky has acquired two notable Tinkoff-Saxo alumni, in Richie Porte (since season 2012) and most recently, Nicolas Roche, who spent the previous two years under Bjarne Riis' watch before making a move to the black and blue bus. Still, there's been nothing so far to suggest that the British-based outfit are doing anything to emulate the team owned by eccentric Russian billionaire Oleg Tinkov; seems like it's the Sky-way or the highway...

It's more observation than criticism that Team Sky ride like they do when it comes to stage races - it's hard to argue with back-to-back Tour de France victories with two completely different riders; July 2014 may well prove an aberration - and with respect to the teams that now appear to be copying their modus operandi, isn't imitation the sincerest form of flattery?

So, like it or lump it, I'm afraid, as far as multi-day races are concerned, the prospect of Sky vs. Sky is likely to stay.