Danny Pate returns to the Tour de France with Sky, but 2012 Tour winner Bradley Wiggins will not.
Sky confirmed Friday its Tour Nine, with a strong squad to support defending champion Chris Froome, but the contentious relationship between Wiggins and Froome meant there was no room for the first British Tour winner on the team.
Sky principal Dave Brailsford was diplomatic when he discussed the team selection and the notable absence of Wiggins, who has been eclipsed by Froome’s rising star.
“It has been a golden decade for cycling. Bradley Wiggins lies at the heart of a lot of that success, and although he has not been selected for this race he is still a key member of Team Sky and a great champion,” Brailsford said in a team release Friday.
“In tackling the difficult challenge of selecting this team, we have stuck to a performance-first philosophy which has bought us considerable success,” Brailsford continued. “Given the number of talented riders in Team Sky this approach has inevitably lead to some very tough decisions — however it’s crucial to remain totally focused on the desired outcome and we’re racing to win.”
Friday’s official release puts an end to speculation that started earlier this spring that Wiggins was on the outs with Sky. Friction between Wiggins and Froome dated back to Wiggins’ 2012 Tour victory, and then spilled over into the 2013 season.
After missing last year’s Tour with an injury, Wiggins tried to bury the hatchet earlier this season, but Brailsford’s comments indicate that it was more a question of Wiggins’ form than what happens inside the team bus.
Wiggins, however, has been on good form this season, riding into the top-10 at Paris-Roubaix and winning the Amgen Tour of California in May before claiming the British national time trial title Thursday. Those results were not good enough to earn the iconoclastic Wiggins a return ticket to the Tour, however.
Brailsford’s decision to sideline Wiggins reconfirms the team’s commitment to Froome, and could mark the closing chapters of Wiggins’ extraordinary career. In comments to journalists, Wiggins has suggested he will return to the track for a push for more Olympic success in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games.
Even without Wiggins, Sky will bring a mixed squad of climbers and rolleurs as it tries to win its third consecutive yellow jersey.
Pate, 35, returns to the Tour for the first time since 2011 in what will be his fourth career Tour start and his first in Sky colors. The veteran American will be part of Sky’s “ground crew” that will help keep Froome out of trouble and well-positioned in the flats leading to the decisive stages.
Eisel, 35, Thomas, 28, and Kiryienka, 32, will also be riding on Froome’s flanks to protect him from the wind, crashes, and help guide him over the cobblestones in stage 5.
Behind them is a solid fleet of climbers who can help guide Froome through the mountainous second half of the 2014 Tour route. Loyal sidekick Porte is back by Froome’s side, while three Spaniards have been tapped to help Froome when the road tips upward.
Veterans Zandio and López are back, along with newcomer Nieve, who proved his worth by winning a stage at the Critérium du Dauphiné earlier this month.
Brailsford said that each rider clearly understands his respective designated role, hinting that there would not be any of the internal strife that accompanied the team in 2012 with tensions between Froome and Wiggins.
“We know how hard it is to win this race and that it takes a totally focused and carefully constructed team, with the right blend of riders, to give us the best chance of victory,” Brailsford said. “Each rider has been selected to play a specific role which will involve total sacrifice and commitment to the team’s ambition of reaching the Champs Élysées in yellow.”
Froome, too, expressed his satisfaction with the team selection, and will head to Leeds confident that he will enjoy the full backing of his teammates.
“We have a really strong team going into the race, full of experience and ability, and we’ve spent a lot of time together this year which is very important,” Froome said in the team release. “We’re ready to get started and can’t wait to get to Yorkshire.”
Sky’s Tour selection sets the stage for what many expect will be an epic clash between Froome and challenger Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo). Despite hiccups all season, including health problems and controversies, Froome looks up to the task of defending his yellow jersey.
Sky for Tour de France (July 5-27)
Chris Froome (GBR)
Richie Porte (AUS)
Geraint Thomas (GBR)
Mikel Nieve (SPA)
Bernhard Eisel (AUT)
Vasil Kiryienka (BLR)
David López (SPA)
Danny Pate (USA)
Xabier Zandio (SPA)