CARCASONNE, France (VN) — The Tour de France’s second rest day comes at a good time for the race-weary peloton. Smashed by extreme weather swings — from cool rain and wind to searing heat — the peloton looks ahead with a mix of trepidation and relief at three days of climbing in the Pyrénées. The suffering will be relentless, but at least Paris is ever closer.
Team Sky is riding toward the Pyrénées with an equal mix of frustration and opportunity. The team’s GC options are shattered, but the team’s pride and spirit are fully intact. The ever-proud Sky wants to take something out of this Tour.
Danny Pate, the veteran American riding his first Tour with Sky since joining the team in 2012, promises to go down swinging.
“We’ve had some bad luck with Chris, and some of the guys are not feeling so well, but I think we still have a couple of opportunities in breakaways,” Pate told VeloNews. “We’ll keep trying. We’ll have some opportunities in the Pyrénées.”
Pate, 35, came to the Tour ready to work in the trenches for team captain Chris Froome. A strong rouleur and steady hand in the bunch, Pate earned Froome’s trust, and a spot on Sky’s Tour lineup.
That’s no easy feat on Sky, considering riders such as 2012 Tour winner Bradley Wiggins were overlooked for Tour selection.
“It was my main goal for the year,” Pate said of making the Tour team. “Things didn’t totally turn out to plan, but we’re going to keep racing all the way to Paris.”
Sky has been ravaged in its push for a third-straight yellow jersey. Froome hit the deck in stage 4, and then packed it in for good before reaching the feared cobbles in stage 5. Richie Porte was Sky’s “Plan B” right from the start, but he succumbed to a chest infection that’s making the rounds in the peloton. He dropped out of contention in the Alps.
“It was the same plan with Richie, but he was a little bit sick, and the other day he had a bad day,” Pate said. “Before that, it was all the same plan. Now we’d like to try to win a stage. We’ve had a few good tries.”
Pate, too, has a bit of a chest cold, but he vows to keep pushing on.
“It doesn’t really matter [with the rest day],” he said. “You just have to keep racing as hard as you can.”
Pate is one of the survivors in the peloton. After becoming the only American to win the U23 world time trial championships in 2001, Pate struggled to find his place in the EPO-charged peloton. After racing domestically, he landed with Slipstream and then linked up with Bob Stapleton’s High Road program, teams that allowed him to race at the highest level in Europe.
That same perseverance has helped him to keep pushing through what everyone agrees has been a brutal Tour this year.
“The weather has been rough. The first week is always hectic, then we had the Roubaix day, first-week nerves, rainy weather — it hasn’t let up,” Pate said. “We haven’t had one ‘nice stage.’ It’s been a challenging Tour, and it’s pushing every one.”
With Sky’s GC hopes in the trash bin, the team will be looking to ride into breakaways. Paris is the ultimate goal, surviving and pushing through to the end of what’s been a trying Tour for Sky.
Pate said he wasn’t sure of what the rest of 2014 will bring, but he’s already set for next season, with one more year remaining on his contract with Team Sky.
“I am no Chris Horner,” he said with a laugh, referring to his 42-year-old compatriot. “I still have fun racing.”