The Tour de France That Might Have Been, Says Sky Director

Sky’s Dave Brailsford says that given Vincenzo Nibali’s current form, this Tour de France could have been a two-man dual between the Italian and last year’s champion, Chris Froome-that is, of course, had Froome not crashed out of the grand tour several days ago. (Photo: Bettini)

Team Sky Principal Dave Brailsford said Friday that even if reigning champion Chris Froome had still been in the Tour de France, he would have had his work cut out to beat Vincenzo Nibali. Italian Nibali won his third stage of the race and once again put time into all his rivals, while Sky’s Richie Porte dropped from second overall to 16th after a disastrous day in the saddle in which he came home 27th and 8min 48sec behind the winner. Froome, 29, would have been Sky’s leader but he crashed out with a broken hand and wrist on the fifth stage. He was dominant last year but Brailsford believes Nibali, who is in total command of this race, would have run him close. But while Porte’s overall hopes are now over, Brailsford said the team still had much to fight for.

“There’s no excuse, we’re not trying to hide or anything. You’ve got to hold your head up and get on with it, we’re not going to roll over,” he said. “It was a blow losing Chris, when you think we were coming here to try and win the race and certainly seeing how Nibali’s been going it would have been an interesting race, that’s for sure. Having to recalibrate to our plan B as it were, and now having to recalibrate again, we’ve just got to take stock of the situation and not get too downbeat because there’s still a lot of racing to go. We’ve got to try and get something out of the race.”

While Nibali stretched his lead out to 3:37 over Alejandro Valverde, a pair of young French riders moved into the next two places. Romain Bardet is third at 4:24 with Thibaut Pinot fourth at 4:40. The pair look set not only to fight each other for the young rider’s white jersey, but perhaps also for a place on the final podium. As for Sky, Brailsford says there are only stage victories left to hope for.

“Let’s see how the next few days go, we can look to animate the race as much as we can and let’s go from there,” he added. He (Porte) is disappointed and when you’re disappointed it’s not the time to start analyzing anything, just support the lad. It was just a question then of minimizing his losses and keep on going.” Brailsford said the problem for Porte was not the pressure of leading the team in Froome’s absence, but perhaps the searing heat with temperatures reaching around 35 degrees Celsius. With Porte now more than 11 minutes behind Nibali, and almost seven off a podium place, Brailsford said it was unrealistic to go for a top final position.

“It was a tough day that’s for sure, everyone saw that,’ said Brailsford. ‘It’s a shame, it was a difficult day for Richie. It was a day when we didn’t win and when you have days like that you must keep your dignity, try to limit the damage and say well done to the others, Nibali and the French. It will be difficult now but we have to fight nonetheless. I honestly don’t think it was the pressure (getting to Porte), maybe it was the heat, but it was hot for everyone and it’s no excuse.”