FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — The route and edition may change, but Team Sky appears just as strong with the 2018 Tour de France approaching.
Its star Chris Froome confirmed his grand tour champion status through adversity. Down in the Giro d’Italia, he soloed away 80.3 kilometers to claim stage 19 to Jafferau, the race lead and the eventual overall.
Some of the new troops who will support him in an attempt to win the Giro/Tour double and a fifth Tour title seem just as strong in the Critérium du Dauphiné this week.
Sky placed four in the top 15 of the opening Dauphiné prologue time trial Sunday. Michal Kwiatkowski led the way with the win and first yellow jersey. They would have counted five, but Geraint Thomas crashed.
Thomas appears to be fine, which is good because Froome will rely on him in the Tour this July. Team Sky will count him as its plan B. Thursday, in the first of four summit finish stages, Thomas finished with the front four including stage winner Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors).
Team Sky occupies the top three: Gianni Moscon took the lead, Kwiatkowski dropped to second overall, and Thomas moved to third.
“Now we have hard stages ahead of us, and we’ll see how it goes,” Thomas said. “We’ve got several cards to play, but it’ll still be difficult to win, that’s for sure.”
“This is the first test of the coming stages, Geraint is our main GC rider, and we are here to support him,” Moscon added.
“The jersey doesn’t change my role in the team, and tomorrow I’ll be there working for him. It shows my shape in the race.”
The team’s shape glowed brightly in the team time trial Wednesday. Sky’s seven men blasted their rivals. BMC Racing, without its star Richie Porte who is racing the Tour de Suisse, placed second at 38 seconds.
It bodes well since the Tour de France’s stage 3, on July 9, features a team time trial of the same distance.
Kwiatkowski added, “The prologue showed us that on paper we were probably the strongest, but it’s a different thing to be out there and perform well as a team.”
Froome, on the heels of his Giro win, will not race in June for the first time since 2010. He needs to rest if he wants to become the first cyclist in 20 years to win the Giro/Tour double.
Watching on television, he should be smiling. From the Dauphiné team, Sky’s brass will select some of Froome’s supporting crew.
Thomas, Kwiatkowski, and Moscon will almost certainly travel to Vendée for the Tour start on July 7. With Froome counted in, that leaves four more spots for the management to select.
Tao Geoghegan Hart, 23, could be too young though he captained Sky’s ship up the finishing Lans-en-Vercors climb Thursday. Instead, Sergio Henao, David López, Egan Bernal, and Wout Poels could pull into the final mountain kilometers. Dylan Van Baarle, Jonathan Castroviejo, and Luke Rowe would ride pace at other moments.
“Sky is going to take a super team,” said team Bahrain-Merida coach and sports director Paolo Slongo. “The organizer can try to start the riders in F1 style grids, like stage 17, but it won’t change much.”
The challenge for Froome may not be the team selection, but to time his form perfectly to last through the three demanding weeks. He came off a hard Giro campaign that saw him crash twice and fight back from a 3:22-minute deficit.
Sky does not seem worried. Its Tour sport director, Nicolas Portal said, “The Giro, no matter the result, is good training and a hard race to improve and to get better for the Tour.”