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Unified Sky in no rush to plot 2019

Sky director Portal expects his superteam to remain harmonious despite many top riders with ambitions to win major tours.

SALAMANCA, Spain (VN) — Team Sky has won four grand tours in a row. It survived a potentially career-ending scandal with Chris Froome and his adverse analytical finding for Salbutamol from the 2017 Vuelta. It owns six of the past seven editions of the Tour de France.

No wonder team officials want to take a breather, at least for a few weeks. They say they’re in no hurry to map out the 2019 season.

“We have had a few very intense months,” Sky director Nicolas Portal told VeloNews. “We have some ideas but sometimes it’s not the best to rush things.”

Team Sky is still in the throes of the 2018 season. Portal is helping manage the Vuelta a España from behind the scenes while Froome and Tour winner Geraint Thomas are racing this week at the Tour of Britain.

The big question for Team Sky going into 2019 is what to do with its wealth of GC options. Assuming that Geraint Thomas will stay with Sky — team boss Dave Brailsford hinted a deal is nearly worked out — and Froome wants to race for a record-tying fifth yellow jersey, Sky could see some turbulence.

And then there’s Colombian sensation Egan Bernal, who will want to have a shot at a grand tour. Michal Kwiatkowski, racing the Vuelta this month, and even Wout Poels are pushing for their chances.

Portal said the team management is in no hurry to try to untangle that knot of egos and ambitions.

“We don’t have any plans yet,” Portal said. “I think we need to — oof — have some cooling down. We need some time at home. When we meet again in November, then we can speak about it, with Froomey [Froome], with G [Thomas], with Egan [Bernal], Wout [Poels], what do you think guys? That would give us a few months to think about things calmly.”

Portal said team management wants to give the riders some space to enjoy their recent successes before piling on pressure about next year’s racing calendar.

“We are still racing now. We have the Vuelta to think about,” he said. “Let’s get through the season and relax a little bit. Then we can make a plan that is correct for everyone.”

What looks likely is that Team Sky is sticking with its core group going into 2019.

Sky has been quiet on the rider market this year and Brailsford told VeloNews last week that it is even considering shrinking its roster slightly to accommodate fewer race demands based on smaller roster sizes for WorldTour events. Brailsford is pleased with his mix of experienced veterans and improving youngsters, though a few additions might be coming on board for 2019.

If Sky does stay largely status quo going into 2019, Brailsford will have to try to find a balancing act that will keep everyone happy. Following his breakout Tour victory, Thomas won’t be content to return to super-domestique duties. Froome, though third at the Tour after winning the 2017 Tour, Vuelta, and 2018 Giro d’Italia in a row, will want another crack at a fifth yellow jersey.

Portal said while the schedules remain undefined going into next season, he said he fully expects Team Sky to remain as a unified unit. There were no hints of betrayal within the squad during the battles of July. And Portal said he expects that to stay the same for 2019.

“What I liked about this year’s Tour is that we could show that we are a team,” he said.

“It was quite painful during this Tour, every day at the start, at the finish, on the phone, the journalists were asking, ‘Hey, Nico come on, tell me, who is going to attack?’ They could not believe us! People were comparing it to Hinault versus LeMond.

“We were talking all the time, before the start, during the race, after the stage. We talked all the time and there was never an issue,” Portal said. “From the very beginning, we were really open between us. We said, ‘Let’s ride for one goal for everyone.’”

Portal said he does not expect that spirit of teamwork and unified purpose to unravel. At least not for the next few months.