Team Sky go into the 2012 season full of optimism having made some great additions during the off-season, including World Champion and sprint king, Mark Cavendish.
The collapse of Team HTC – Columbia at the back-end of last season meant that Cavendish was without a team and Sky moved to secure a man they had chased since their formation in 2009. Cavendish has brought former teammates Bernhard Eisel, Danny Pate and Kanstantsin Siutsou with him to Sky. The most significant of these is best friend and faithful lieutenant on the road, Bernhard Eisel. He is the man that chases down breakaways and organises the run in train to set Cavendish up perfectly in the bunch sprints, a position he usually converts into a victory.
The Manx Missile’s CV reads like a list of what to win in road cycling. His victories include: 20 stage wins in the Tour de France including 3 consecutive wins on the Champs-Élysées, the Green ‘sprinters’ Jersey in the 2011 Tour de France, 7 stage wins in the Giro d’Italia, 3 stage wins in the Vuelta a España, the points classification in the 2010 Vuelta, 1st in the 2009 Milan-San Remo and winner of the 2011 World Championships.
The signing of Cav indicates a massive coup for Team Sky who enjoyed their most successful season to date in 2011. Team leader Bradley Wiggins managed to secure victory in the prestigious Critérium du Dauphiné in June and also finished 3rd in the final Grand Tour of the year, the Vuelta a España. Edvald Boassen Hagen gave Sky their first ever stage wins in the Tour de France, winning stages 6 and 17 whilst also finishing second in the final stage on the Champs-Élysées behind future teammate Mark Cavendish. Chris Sutton won Stage 2 of the Vuelta a España and Chris Froome finished second overall in the Vuelta, winning Stage 17 of the tour. The next target for 26 year old Cavendish is victory at the Olympic Road Race which takes place just six days after the conclusion of the Tour de France.
These achievements were a huge step forward for Sky who had a disappointing first couple of seasons on the Tour. The performances of young riders Boassen Hagen and Froome will have been particularly rewarding for team principal Dave Brailsford as he has largely looked towards younger riders when recruiting. This strategy continued in the off-season with Sky bringing in Sergio Henao, a 24 year old Colombian climber, Richie Porte, winner of the young rider classification in the 2010 Giro d’Italia, Salvatore Puccio, a young Italian with bags of potential and neo-pro, Luke Rowe from Wales alongside their signings from HTC.
This mix of young riders with potential and more experienced performers leaves Sky with a very well balanced squad for the new season. They have been able to add real quality to the existing squad and have managed to keep a good core of British riders. With the likes of Geraint Thomas and Edvald Boassen Hagen as lead out men, I fully expect Cavendish to fit right into Team Sky and continue the spectacular form he has shown over the past few seasons. The emergence of Froome is a huge plus for Bradley Wiggins who can rely on his teammate to help him out during the big mountain stages of the grand tours.
Whilst there is no doubt that Sky have the talent to be a real force this year they do face the challenge of finding a balance between chasing stage victories with Cavendish and looking towards the general classification with Wiggins. This issue will come to the forefront in July during the Tour de France. Cavendish is desperate to retain the Green Jersey he claimed last year whilst Wiggins wants to make a real run at the Yellow Jersey having been robbed of the chance by injury last season. However, I don’t think this will be too big a problem with riders like Boassen Hagen, Pate, Rogers, Porte, Thomas and Siutsou able to double up by helping chase breakaways down and also being competent in the mountains. 2012 promises to be an exciting season for British cycling and the Sky certainly is the limit.
Full 2012 Squad List (British riders in bold)
Davide Appolonio, Michael Barry, Edvald Boassen Hagen, Mark Cavendish, Alex Dowsett, Bernhard Eisel, Juan Antonio Flecha, Chris Froome, Mathew Hayman, Sergio Henao, Jeremy Hunt, Peter Kennaugh, Christian Knees, Thomas Löfkvist, Lars Petter Nordhaug, Danny Pate, Richie Porte, Salvatore Puccio, Michael Rogers, Luke Rowe, Kanstantsin Siutsou, Ian Stannard, Chris Sutton, Ben Swift, Geraint Thomas, Rigoberto Uran, Bradley Wiggins, Xabier Zandio