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RISOUL, France (VN) — For the past two Julys, the front of the peloton has been a string of black and blue as the Sky team labored around France, stepping on the throat of its national tour.
This year, the color at the tip of the spear has changed to the light blue of Astana and with it comes the duty to bridle the Tour de France, at least for now.
For Sky “relief” may not be the right word, but the fates of the 2014 Tour, cruel as they were, has meant the British team is now in one-day-race mode — a role it’s unused to but not afraid of. It sent Geraint Thomas and Mikel Nieve on the hunt Saturday up to Risoul, though the efforts came in vain.
“There’s no point being here and just riding ’round,” Thomas said at the summit of Risoul. “I just got stuck in and managed to get there with him. Bit of a shame we never got a big advantage, and I guess some of the guys didn’t want to ride too much, cause they saw there was two of us and two Saxo. But at the end of the day, I was like, ‘Well, we’re here. We might as well try.'”
Sky’s GC hopes fell to Richie Porte when Chris Froome ducked into a team car on stage 5, the victim of three crashes in two days, with fractures to his left wrist and right hand. Porte was as well-placed as second overall but suffered up to Chamrousse Friday, falling from contention. He was distanced again on Saturday, and is now in 15th, more than 16 minutes down on race leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana). Xabier Zandio also left the Tour early.
“That’s life, that’s sport. And just get on with it, you know?” said Thomas. “You can either be all depressed and ride around at the back of the peloton and do nothing for a week or get stuck in and race hard. It’s still the Tour de France. There’s still a lot to race for.”
The team’s principal, Dave Brailsford, took a long view.
“This is a different role, but it’s also a role that kind of reminds you just how hard this race is. How serious and how difficult a race it is. And if you put a foot wrong it catches you out. And that’s what this race is about,” he said.
“And that’s why, having won it twice, you say, ‘Wow, that’s a pretty big achievement.’ To come back and do it a third time was always going to be a big ask, and it’s a shame that Chris crashed out. However, it puts it in perspective and we’ll keep on fighting, keep on trying.”
But it’s not as if winning a bike race is a matter of an off-and-on switch; entire teams gun for one stage win here all season. Nothing is given away nor taken easily.
“It feels like I’ve done a hell of a lot of work the last two weeks, and it all fell apart yesterday,” Thomas said. “And that’s no one’s fault. That’s the way it goes. Richie worked just as hard. It’s kind of like — it’s easy to be like, ‘Yeah, just got a stage now.’ But when you’re pretty shattered it’s quite hard. Like I say. We just keep trying.”