How the hell … are Team Sky so bad at the Giro?

Sky fans look away now. Euan chronicles the comedy and chaos that is the British team’s annual assault on the maglia rosa and asks…. how the hell are Team Sky so bad at the Giro?

Amsterdam, Netherlands, 8 May 2010: It’s a showery Saturday afternoon and the Giro d’Italia is having one of its regular jaunts to another country. Stage 1 is a short time trial. Many of the familiar teams of the era are here: Rabobank, Liquigas and Garmin-WhateverTheyAreCalledThisYear.

Also attending is Sky Professional Cycling. The big budget British-based cycling team with even bigger ambitions are competing in their first Grand Tour. Towards the end of the stage, Bradley Wiggins goes faster than early pace-setter Brent Bookwalter. None of the remaining riders beat Wiggins’ time. Just like that, Sky have the leader’s pink jersey. 

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In their first year of existence, they’ve won the first stage of the first Grand Tour they’ve ever competed in. They go to bed that night feeling blessed.

Gran Sasso d’Italia, Italy, 13 May 2018: No one in Team Sky will be feeling blessed. So far it’s been an awful Giro d’Italia for their leader Chris Froome. He’s had so much bad luck, he must feel like he’s Ross Geller in a particularly cruel episode of Friends: The One With All The Crashing.

Ross Chris fell before stage 1 even started. He lost a chunk of time in the opening time trial and lost even more seconds on stage 4. On stage 8 he had another crash, this time going uphill and round a hairpin. At the end of stage 9, he couldn’t keep up with the favourites group and came in, alone, over one minute behind them. 

Maybe no one told him it was going to be that way. But if he’d asked around his team they might have warned him that Team Sky just don’t do well at the Giro.

Go back to 2010. Wiggins would lose that pink jersey the next day and, by the end, Dario Cioni would be Sky’s best-placed rider at 17th that year.

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How hard can the Giro be?

2013 was a classic for the ages. Pumped up after their Tour de France victory the previous year, Sky announced Wiggins would be going all out for the Giro. With typical Sky hubris, all the talk was about how he was going to win it. If he could conquer the Tour de France so easily, the Giro would be a cinch!

Not really. Injury following a fall and illness caused Wiggins to withdraw after stage 12. At the time he was sitting 12th on the GC classification and looking permanently miserable. I can’t remember him smiling once during that race and he’s never ridden a Grand Tour since.

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(As a side note: Rigoberto Uran went on to finish second in the race but that felt like Uran’s personal achievement rather than Sky’s)

2015 was the next time Sky decided to have a proper crack at the Giro. Richie Porte was going to give it a go and this time Team Sky had a secret weapon… a motorhome! Instead of sleeping in a different hotel room every night for three weeks, Porte would be the best-rested rider in the peloton. He was going to be bunking down in the back of a glorified transit van.

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Did it work? Erm… No! Porte’s first disaster came with a puncture on stage 10. He lost nearly a minute on the day and worse was to come. Porte got docked a further two minutes because he’d taken a wheel from a member of a rival team. In trying to make sure the flat cost him as little time as possible, Porte ended up going further backwards. 

Still, a couple of good nights of sleep should have put that right. Only they didn’t. Porte would continue to lose time until stage 15 when he was 35 minutes behind leader Alberto Contador. The next day Porte decided to quit Giro and go back to his own bed. To keep other riders safe from such devastating time losses, the UCI banned the use of motorhomes soon afterwards.

Blockhaus bad luck

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In the 2017 Giro d’Italia, Sky opted to have co-leaders in Geraint Thomas and Mikel Landa. Perhaps they hoped one of them would suffer all the traditional Sky bad luck, leaving the other to rampage imperiously around Italy. 

Thomas and Landa were both wiped out of contention by a crash on stage 9. Yes, in the space of five seconds, both co-leaders were out of the game.

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And that brings us back to the present day. 2018 was Sky’s highest-profile attempt yet to win their first Giro d’Italia. At the time of writing, Chris Froome is two and a half minutes down on the GC.

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When Sky try to dominate the Giro and smother the other teams is when they come unstuck. The Giro isn’t the Tour. You can’t tame the Giro by grinding it out. Nobody puts the Giro in a corner.

So how the hell are Team Sky so bad at the Giro? Because they’ve never treated the Giro with the respect it deserves.

Header image: Mikel Landa, 2017 Giro d’Italia ©GETTY/Velo/Kei Tsuji

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