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PESCHICI, Italy (VN) — Will Team Sky try to make the Giro d’Italia so hard that Nairo Quintana will be worn out for July’s Tour de France?
When that question was posed to Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford, he smiled his best Cheshire Cat grin.
“There’s no denying that that is in the back of my mind,” Brailsford said Saturday at the finish line. “I think it’s a secondary thought, it’s not front to mind. We are focused on this race, but, nonetheless, if you can help yourself … .”
Brailsford made it clear that the team’s first priority is to win its first pink jersey in franchise history. With Geraint Thomas and Mikel Landa both riding high as co-leaders, the team is poised to slot them into contention going into the Giro’s final week.
But he also knows that Quintana is perhaps the only rider in the peloton who can truly rattle Chris Froome in the Tour. So as the fiery Colombian climber takes on the gamble of the Giro-Tour double, Sky also knows that a very hard Giro will be much better for Froome come July.
“The harder [the Giro], the better for us,” Brailsford said. “We’re in it for a hard race.”
Coming into 2017, Froome resisted pressure to race the Giro as part of the race’s 100th edition, and remained focus on what he knows best. The three-time Tour winner, who brushed off a scary training crash last week, will repeat his highly successful calendar of racing the Tour with peak form in July, and then take on the Vuelta a España, a race where Froome’s finished second three times.
For Froome and Team Sky, winning another Tour is more important than the highly unpredictable Giro-Tour double attempt, at least right now.
“Chapeaux — hat’s off to him. Nairo wants to give it a go, and you have to respect that,” Brailsford said. “When you’re at end of last season, and you’re thinking, ‘maybe, maybe’ [racing the Giro] … but there’s a difference between trying to win the Tour for a first time, like the situation that Nairo is in, and if you’ve won it four times, and you’re trying to win it again.”
With barely a month between both races, many consider the Giro so difficult that a modern-day double is unrealistic. No one’s successfully pulled it off since Marco Pantani in 1998, and other efforts have fizzled out, most recently by Alberto Contador in 2015.
The Spaniard said that he was so shattered from his effort to win that year’s pink jersey that he simply ran out of gas in July, riding to fifth behind Froome. There were suggestions that Astana and other teams made the race as hard as possible on Contador so that he would well short of his best in July.
Brailsford insists that Team Sky is focused on winning its first Giro d’Italia in franchise history. After dominating the Tour de France, winning four of the past five editions, the team wants to finally win another grand tour that isn’t raced in July.
“We are here to focus on this race,” he said. “And ride in a way that gives the guys the best possible chance of good results in this race, and then we’ll take it on.”
Brailsford’s hunch on how Quintana is tackling this Giro is very similar to what Movistar has said publicly about its Giro tactics. Quintana is entering the Giro light on racing, with the idea of trying to win the pink jersey without having to completely emptying the tank. Movistar brass believes that Quintana is so good in the mountains that he can simply outlast everyone in the Giro’s final brutal week.
“Nairo can stay there, stay there, stay there, and let people disappear off the back, rather than him going miles off the front,” Brailsford surmised. “It will be more of a war of attrition. I am sure that is how they want to race it.”
With Quintana emerging as one of the most dangerous grand tour riders, it won’t be just Team Sky that would like to see a tired Quintana arrive to July. With a fresh Froome at the start line in Dusseldorf, Sky would certainly have the most to gain.