CASTELRAIMONDO, Italy (VN) — Team Sky’s singular obsession with the Tour de France is officially over.
Not that the UK team wasn’t racing to win every chance it could during the first half decade of its existence, but it was no secret that the team’s energy and focus was directed toward winning cycling’s biggest prize — the yellow jersey.
Sky pulled off the unimaginable not once, but twice, with two different riders, as Bradley Wiggins and then Chris Froome made history in the Tour de France during 2012-13.
As the team pedals into its second half decade, Sky is clearly spreading its wings. The team has already notched 11 victories in the opening weeks of 2015, more than any season up to this point on the calendar in its first five years of racing. Only Etixx-Quick-Step, with 16 wins, has more so far this year.
On Saturday, it was Wout Poels’ turn. He pounced over a late-stage, second-category climb in stage 4 of Tirreno-Adriatico to fend off the chasing favorites, win the stage and take the leader’s jersey.
Team Sky is clearly on a roll.
“We are in a good mood with the team. When you see your teammates winning, you also want to win,” Poels said. “We’ve trained very hard this winter, and I went to altitude camp this winter for the first time, and that really helped out. It’s great to win the stage for the team.”
The 2015 haul is impressive by any measure. Froome took a win and the overall at the Ruta del Sol, in a dramatic showdown against Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo). Ian Stannard quickly followed up by defending his title at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. On Friday, Richie Porte punctuated expert work from Team Sky at Paris-Nice, delivering the stage victory for his team-leading fourth win of the year. Elia Viviani took a sprint win at the Dubai Tour, and Geraint Thomas won a stage and the overall at the Volta a Algarve.
Of course, it’s not as though Team Sky didn’t win before. The team has scored important victories, including a whopping 51 wins on the 2012 season, capped by Wiggins’ Tour de France crown.
Speaking to reporters during a training camp on Mallorca in January, team boss Dave Brailsford said Team Sky is intent on extending its reach this season.
“If we’d like to be considered the best cycling team in the world, from results points of view, we have to match our results in the Tour and in stage race in other areas,” Brailsford said. “We see interesting opportunities in the classics, especially the monuments. We have to get one of those on our palmares. There is an opportunity, as the team moves into its second five years, to become a more complete team.”
There is a sense of change at Team Sky for 2015, and you can see that in their roster changes. For 2015, four riders left — Edvald Boasson Hagen (MTN-Qhubeka), Dario Cataldo (Astana), Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale-Garmin), and Josh Edmondson — and the team added six new riders, including Andrew Fenn and Poels (Etixx-Quick Step), Lars Petter Nordhaug (Belkin), Leopold Konig (NetApp-Endura), Nicholas Roche (Tinkoff-Saxo), and Elia Viviani (Cannondale).
With Wiggins set to leave the road scene for good following Paris-Roubaix in April, the team will clearly be built around Froome, but will also provide more chances for other riders. Porte will lead at the Giro d’Italia, while homegrown riders such as Thomas, Stannard, Ben Swift, and Peter Kennaugh will see more opportunities this season as Sky moves past the Wiggins era.
“To win the Tour de France was all we dreamed and talked about,” Brailsford said. “Sustaining that success is very different from going for it the first time around. We’ve learned from that.”
Poels’ victory and leader’s jersey also reconfirms that Sky is deep, even with Froome not in the race. The team captain was a late-hour DNS due to illness, but is expected to return to racing at the Volta a Catalunya later this month in Spain.
“For me, it was disappointing that I couldn’t ride my first race with Chris,” Poels said. “I want to go to the Tour, so we have to see if I fit onto the team. On the other hand, it was a good opportunity to get a good result for the team.”
A stage win at Tirreno already goes a long way to confirming Poels’ credentials inside the team, and also serves as another reminder that Sky is already putting the Wiggins era in the rear-view mirror.