Team Sky (or Sky Procycling as they were until the start of this season) have undoubtedly changed the way that cycling is perceived in this country. Although they were set up from the start as an internationally rostered team – albeit with a very clear aim of initially achieving success in the Tour de France for a British rider – they were often described as a de facto British national road team. The overlapping managerial & coaching staff from the national track squad adds fuel to this conflation, especially for the legions of new cycling fans that the team’s success has turned onto the sport. It was also inevitable that many of the existing and upcoming British riders would find a home at Sky where the people, program and language were most familiar. But what of those British riders who choose not to ‘Take to the Sky’ with Brailsford and Co? Are they getting a fair share of cycle fan’s support when faced with the media-attention black hole that the Tour-winning team creates wherever it goes?
Now that the Tour of Britain has concluded, all eyes are fully focussed on Tuscany for the UCI World Road Race Championships this week. Racing started today with the Team Time Trial before moving onto the individual time trials in the middle of the week and then culminating with the Blue Riband road race events next weekend. Junior (Men and Women) and U23 (Men only) versions of all the events are either side of the midweek races, filling out a packed schedule of competition. We are guaranteed some gorgeous scenery as the routes traverse the beautiful Tuscan landscape around Lucca, Pistoia and Florence and there are going to be plenty of fireworks throughout the event.
The Team Time Trials – uniquely contested by trade teams rather than nations – kicked off the annual event and both the Mens and Women’s events were won by the defending champions, though in starkly contrasting fashions. Whilst Specialized-Lulu Lemon romped home in the Women’s race, besting second place Rabo Womens Cycling by over 70 seconds across the 42.7km course, the Men’s Omega Pharma QuickStep squad had a somewhat narrower margin of victory over the Orica Greenedge team. Racing an extended course of 56.8km, the Belgian outfit – who were the last team out on the road – took the title from the understandably gutted Australians by less than a single second. Their time of 1:04:16.81 was just enough to deny Orica Greenedge, who had maintained a strong run in the final kilometres to set up the nail-biting finish. Sky Procycling rounded out the podium some 22 seconds further back.
Home interest in the Team Time Trials has been impacted by the fact that cross-scheduling of this event with the last stage of the Tour of Britain meant that two of GB’s best male testers were unavailable. Whilst Chris Froome (SKY), and Steve Cummings (BMC) both took part, it was the absence of the talents of Alex Dowsett and Bradley Wiggins – both of whom illuminated the final ToB stage in some way of recompense – that was most obvious.