• Mikel Landa is the fourth designated leader from Team Sky to abandon or not start the Giro d'Italia in as many years. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Could Team Sky's pattern of woe at recent Giri d'Italia be purely coincidental, asks Anthony Tan?
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Cycling Central
21 May 2016 - 6:37 PM  UPDATED 21 May 2016 - 8:44 PM

Is it just coincidence that in four out of the last four years, Team Sky's designated leader for the Giro d'Italia has either failed to finish or failed to even start the race?

In 2013 Bradley Wiggins, the reigning Tour de France champion, decided to give the Giro a nudge. His slow build-up seemed ideal, finishing fifth at the Volta Catalunya and the Giro del Trentino, but a combination of skittish descending in the wet and a chest infection led to his abandon after 12 stages. Rigoberto Urán, riding for Sky at the time, salvaged their race by finishing second overall to Vincenzo Nibali, who was head and shoulders above the rest.

"Their overwhelming insistence on science and data may work for a rider like Chris Froome but appears problematic for others."

Reward for his loyalty and performance at the previous two Tours de France, Richie Porte was promised leadership at La Corsa Rosa the year following. He came out firing and won the first of his hat-trick of Willunga summit finishes at the Tour Down Under, then ran second to Alejandro Valverde at the Vuelta Andalucia. But those were early days and what followed were a quartet of inauspicious DNFs - Tirreno-Adriatico, Catalunya, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Tour de Romandie - which, unsurprisingly, saw him miss the Grande Partenza in Belfast.

In 2015 the Tasmanian got a second chance and this time things looked very good indeed, albeit a little too good: another Willunga stage and second overall at Down Under; a resounding second Paris-Nice; overall victory at Catalunya; and another GC win at Trentino. A week-and-a-half at the Giro and he was already cooked. He fell ill, and, in the first individual time trial, finished a miserable 55th, 4'20 down on his team-mate Vasil Kiryienka. The next day to Madonna di Campiglio he lost 27 minutes to stage winner Mikel Landa. Game over.

Last off-season, they acquired (i.e., paid a shedload of cash for) Landa's signature and made him leader at this year's Giro. Though like Porte the year previous, he overtrained and was firing all cylinders at Trentino but didn't even get halfway in the one that mattered. Mikel Nieve's stage win Friday to Cividale del Friuli provided cold comfort (interestingly, each of the Spaniard's three Grand Tour stage wins have come after his team leader has faltered, earning him the dubious moniker of a consolation prize specialist), as one cannot overlook this inglorious fact: for the fourth consecutive year, Team Sky's designated leader has faltered and foundered well before the final hurdle.

Their overwhelming insistence on science and data may work for a rider like Chris Froome or Bradley Wiggins but appears problematic for others, who are perhaps more suited to training and racing on "experience and feel", which is how Cycling Central commentator Robbie McEwen said he went about things throughout his 17-year professional career; clearly, it did him no harm. From what I understand Alberto Contador, Nairo Quintana, Alejandro Valverde, Rafal Majka and Esteban Chaves also fall into the mind over (power) meter category, even if some of them use such gadgets, though generally only in training.

This is not so much to dismiss sports science, physiology and psychology, nor is it to say outright Team Sky is focused on Froome and the Tour de France at the expense of all others, although there may be slivers of truth in that. It is more to say each athlete will respond differently - sometimes wildly - to a set training/racing program, and it is just as, if not more, important, to listen to your mind and body as it is the team doctor, coach, or sport director.

And with respect to Grand Tours, it is far better to go in underdone than all guns blazing. For the GC rider, these races always have been, and always will be, won in the final week.