PAU, France, July 16, 2012 (AFP) — Sky manager Dave Brailsford defended his team’s tactics Monday as Mark Cavendish was left with only the final stage to the Champs Élysées in Paris to try and win this Sunday.
Cavendish, who won a stage earlier in the race to take his tally to 21, lost his chance of contesting a bunch sprint when Sky and other teams failed to chase down a breakaway that went all the way to the end of stage 15. In doing so, Brailsford reaffirmed Sky’s commitment to winning the bigger prize of the yellow jersey.
With Bradley Wiggins in the lead and Kenyan-born British teammate Chris Froome second, at 2:05, the Londoner is on the cusp of creating Tour de France history for Britain.
The peloton will contest two mountain stages in succession in the Pyrénées after Tuesday’s second rest day.
“With the Pyrénées coming up it made sense to conserve our energy or share the workload and others teams didn’t want to share,” said Brailsford.
Bernhard Eisel, the only Sky rider allocated to Cavendish at this year’s Tour, said Sky has backed off chasing the sprints, at least for a day.
“We’ll see if they start playing tactics, and who is going to start riding,” Eisel said before today’s stage. “For sure, it’s not us. We have the yellow jersey, and we want to defend the yellow jersey and then, if it comes to a bunch gallop, Cav is ready. Cav is in great form, too. But we’re not going to bring everybody back just to have a bunch sprint. For sure not.”
Sky’s decision left a six-man group to go to the finish unhindered, with Frenchman Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ-BigMat) taking his fourth career win on the race after a two-up sprint with American Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Sharp).
With Cavendish’s personal ambitions again shelved, Brailsford said he could understand if people said the Manxman — who had won 20 stages from five previous participations — was on the wrong team.
“Certainly. It’s a logical conclusion that people would question this Tour,” he said. “When you come into this race knowing we could try to win the race and with the position we find ourselves in at the moment, you have to clarify.
“Mark’s situation as an individual rider, would he be getting more opportunities with a dedicated team around him? Looking at this Tour, the answer would probably be yes.”
But, he added: “He knew what the situation was coming into it. He’s a very strong team player, but he is an ambitious guy, too. I think he’s still got opportunities and we’ll try to take those.”
The most likely chance for Cavendish to claim win number 22 is now on the 20th and final stage to the Champs Élysées in Paris, where he has won the past three years.
Wiggins, meanwhile, was keen to put the dilemma into perspective, saying the fastest man on two wheels had been “fantastic these last two-and-a-half weeks”.
“He’s been so committed to my cause — to the yellow jersey — and he’s a great champion and a great friend,” said Wiggins. “Obviously there is still the stage to Paris for him and we’re going to lay it down in Paris for him and try and get him the win there.
“He’s also got the Olympic road race… that’s his main objective this year, so it’s a shame that he hasn’t had the chance to race for more stage wins, but in the end we’ve got a difficult task on our hands to try and win the yellow jersey.
“So far, he’s played a big part in that. We’ve seen him going back for bottles and, yesterday, he tried really hard to get over that first climb with us… he’s also been an absolute gentleman this week.”
Asked in a post-stage press conference why Sky didn’t line up for a bunch sprint today due to the “flat” nature of the stage, yellow jersey Wiggins was succinct.
“Have you ridden a bike before? There was 2,000 meters of climbing in 150K. Not flat. It was tough out there. We didn’t make that decision in the meeting. We made it out on the road,” Wiggins said. “There was a time when Lotto-Belisol moved to the front to chase back the breakaway, but eventually they sat up, too.”
“We shut it down, and then Lotto soon shut it down,” Wiggins said. “So that was the end of that.”
Matthew Beaudin contributed to this report.