Welcome to the VeloNews 2017 WorldTour fan guide. It’s tough to be a cycling fan. Riders jump around more than a loose cassette. Teams change kits like Sven Nys swaps bikes in a muddy ‘cross race. So, here’s a guide to your new favorite team. Don’t like these guys? Stay tuned for more previews.
Your team: Team Sky
Your team’s fan base: Poking fun at Sky fans is like laughing at New England Patriots fans; any criticism is just poorly hidden jealousy. That said, Sky fans enjoy mushy peas with dripping, black sausage, and other nasty English food. I can only assume that Sky’s fan base is comprised predominantly of British cycling journalists, self-proclaimed winners, owners of Rapha Team Sky Collection gear, and people who love 0-0 draws in “footy.”
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Your team’s star: Chris Froome’s likability rating was off the charts in 2016. He attacked on descents, on flats, and on foot, and in doing so, won over a few critics (ahem, Spencer) who previously griped about boring tactics and formulaic racing. Adding to Froome’s likability was his gracious loser attitude at the Vuelta, where he admitted that Sky crapped the bed on stage 15. And yeah, he gobbled pizza with Esteban Chaves, posted cute photos of his kid, wore a kimono about as well as anyone could, and even tweeted out some Simpsons GIFs. What a great guy, right?
Can Froome top 2016, or have we hit peak Froome? It’s the big question for this year. We were hoping he’d up the pain game and tackle the Giro/Tour double, but it looks like Froome has better judgment than that. Will he go Tour/Vuelta? Will he attack on the flats, mountains, and in the buffet line? Will he slug another fan in the head?
Best-case scenario: Achieving perfection looks like this: Froome wins his fourth Tour and then tackles the Vuelta, which he also wins. Mikel Landa rebounds from his Giro disaster from 2016 and gets onto the podium. In the hard one-day races, either Wout Poels or Diego Rosa or Sergio Henao nab a win. The team’s cobbled squad is still one or two riders short of making a serious challenge for Roubaix or Flanders. But if Luke Rowe, Ian Stannard, or Geraint Thomas can win Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne or Dwars door Vlaanderen or E3 Harelbeke, then they’ve done their jobs. And if Ella Vivani can win Giro stages, great.
The best-case scenario looks pretty achievable for Sky this year. The team’s grand tour goon squad returns relatively unchanged from 2016, with new climbing domestiques Kenny Ellisonde and Diego Rosa likely to fill Mikel Landa’s spot. Yep, we’re all set for another year of Fortress Froome.
Worst-case scenario: I mean, given Sky’s murderer’s row, it’s really hard to think of a bad scenario for the team. Here goes. Landa again is a turkey at the Giro, only this time he sings, “It’s All About the Benjamins” into the TV cameras as he slowly fades off the back. The team exits without any stage victories.
At the classics, Rowe and Stannard become cannon fodder to Sagan, Trek – Segafredo, and Quick-Step. Another mighty gust of wind knocks Thomas into a ditch, and he misses his Tour buildup to rehab a broken collarbone. OK, now here’s the tough part. Even in a total worst-case scenario for Sky, Froome still wins the Tour. That’s how superior he is right now to his rivals at this race. The only things that can stop him are catastrophic illness, alien abduction, or maybe the team bus falling into a sinkhole at the Grand Départ. Even then, Froome would likely climb out of the hole and then drop Nairo Quintana.
Likability rating: 7/10. Froome earned our love at the 2016 Tour de France with his brazen attack off the Peyresourde and his Benny Hill-inspired run up Mont Ventoux (cue the Yakety Sax). If it were just Froome, we’d give him a perfect 10. But Sky as a whole will always be saddled by its reputation as cycling’s boring team of watts-crunching robots that snuffs out fun attacks. Yeah, we know it’s a basic take, but we hate a boring Tour. And yeah, Sky also lost beaucoup brownie points in 2016 after the whole Bradley Wiggins/TUE debacle. So long as Wout Poels isn’t revealed to be a runaway robot host from “Westworld,” Sky is still OK in our book.