Cycling: Team Sky Look to Continue Good Start In Qatar
As some of you should know by now, it's been a good start for Team Sky so far as they managed to win two stages during last month's Tour Down Under in Australia.
It was a fine start for the team and one that had the team's chief principal Dave Brailsford thoroughly delighted, never mind the riders and the growing fan base of the team.
After all, the team are in the sport to win and would have been quietly confident of a good start. That being said, it's still quite impressive when any new team gets off to a good start (in any sport to be fair) and for the team to made their mark so soon is great credit to Brailsford and everyone involved with the team.
The Tour Down Under was great for the team, as it helped the team see just how good the team was in race conditions.
There were good reports coming out of the training camp in Valencia that the team was working well and that Brailsford's target of doing well over the season was not just fighting talk.
Victory in the Cancer Council Helpline Classic in Adelaide, the prelude to the Tour, was a great bonus for the team. It came on a day of great attendances around the city.
It was particularly impressive given that Team Sky dominated the front of the peloton, making it hard for any other moves from the opposition to evolve.
Team HTC Columbia, a team well-known for winning stages and races over the last couple of years (of course, famously, with Mark Cavendish over the last years) could not break through.
With the peloton whizzing around the circuit on the last lap, it was left to Greg Henderson to take advantage of the tremendous lead out by the team to win the stage ahead of fellow Team Sky rider Chris Sutton to claim a famous 1-2 for the team.
The Tour itself was a good experience for the team and they experienced another victory, this time on the final and sixth stage of the tour which also happened to be a 1-2 as well.
Sutton this time getting the victory on the line ahead of Henderson, who finished on the podium with a deserved third place in the GC. Henderson, a proud Kiwi, would have been delighted with his performance and I have to say the bits of highlights I saw on the TV that the team looked organised and ready for a good season.
Speaking of TV, it was good to see more coverage of the sport on television as it's important the lesser known tours get shown on TV, as not only will it keep the old fans happy but bring in newer ones further raising the profile of the sport.
Over the last couple of days, Team Sky have been competing in the Etoile de Besseges race. This race is usually the first race of the European Season and the team's riders particularly John-Lee Augustyn, Nicolas Portal, and Michael Barry all shone on the fourth stage of the race yesterday.
Augustyn, the talented South African, is just one of the young riders on the team who British cycling fans should be keeping tabs on and along with the team today were placed well, which will no doubt please the team so early on.
Barry, who was involved in the final descent on the stage with Augustyn as well as fellow Team Sky rider Nicolas Portal, feels so far the team have learnt from this experience so far.
"As a team we were able to test our legs on some hard climbs and the team was present at the hardest moments, so far this race has given us a chance to learn more about each other and been a real stepping stone for us to gel as a team."
Augustyn, by the way, is the highest placed of the team's riders in 62nd place going into the final stage of the race, which finishes today with a sprint finish.
Also starting today is the Tour of Qatar, which marks the debut of Team Sky's marquee signing, Bradley Wiggins. Qatar is probably one of the last places you'd think when you think of cycling, but has grown in popularity and the 2010 event will mark its ninth competition.
With the market in the Middle East growing since the turn of the decade, it's important that cycling follows sports like football and Formula 1 in having a step in the Middle East and racing in Qatar is a great way to attract new sponsors and new interests in the sport.
Incidentally, you can catch coverage of the 6-day event on Eurosport, so it should be worth tuning in to see not just Team Sky but the other teams like Team HTC-Columbia and Lance Armstrong's RadioShack outfit.
But back to Wiggins. Wiggins and Team Sky came under fire after his signing for bullying their rivals into getting their riders with David Millar, Wiggin's teammate at Garmin and Jon Vaughters, The American’s team director being critical of the team for their hard approach to sign the Olympian.
Wiggins, however, has hit back saying, "People are trying to attach a stigma to us, but it is a load of crap; I think there is a lot of jealousy around from certain riders because they are not in this team."
Wiggins, of course, is looking forward to racing in Qatar.
"The expectation to win is always there with us, to stand here and say we're not that bothered would be a lie. It's a big objective for us tomorrow which will hopefully put us in good focus for the year ahead."
The first stage starts tomorrow around 11 a.m., and it's a team trial which certainly are always great to watch as they seem to have a sense of prestige around them and show just how organized teams are over the stage distance.
The eight riders contesting the Tour of Qatar for Team Sky are: Kurt-Asle Arvesen, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Russell Downing, Juan Antonio Flecha, Lars-Petter Nordhaug, Ian Stannard, Geraint Thomas and Bradley Wiggins.
For an outside bet look out for Sky's Hagen to do well, after all he is one of the stars of the future and will be learning all the time alongside experienced heads like Arvesen and Flecha around.
Responding to more rumours about Cavendish linking up with the team when his contract with Team HTC-Columbia Wiggins said that the move at the moment is highly unlikely.
Referring to the team ethic at Sky and the difficulty of a team managing with two elite sprinters Wiggins said that it would be difficult.
"Our riders that came from Columbia came to Sky to get more of a chance for themselves, as I know that Dave Brailsford is quite keen that if Cav were to come, that there won’t be a team built solely 'round him."
That comment I found quite interesting, and it sums up what Team Sky are about, in the fact that it's obvious that Brailsford is looking for that right balance to make the team successful.
But depending on how Columbia perform this season, as Wiggins proved over the winter if a rider wants to join a team, the rider will get his move so Cavendish to Sky shouldn't be ruled out completely.
Though it's something that at the moment is highly unlikely when you think more about the parties involved.
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