Meet the riders who will be pivotal in defending the yellow jersey all the way to Paris.
- By Jen See
For two days the Tour de France has ascended some of the highest mountain roads in the French Alps. With each climb, Team Sky has formed an impregnable wall around team captain and yellow-jersey-holder Bradley Wiggins. Wiggins has led the race since Monday’s long time trial, but if anyone expected him to crack in the high mountains, they were mistaken. He has shown few signs of weakness, and on Thursday he increased his advantage over Cadel Evans, who started the race as Wiggins’ most threatening rival.
Team Sky has assembled an impressive supporting cast for Wiggins. It pays to have a big budget in cycling, though money alone never guarantees success. On any other team, many of the riders supporting Wiggins would be team leaders in their own right. Most notably, Chris Froome finished second in the Vuelta a España in 2011, Richie Porte has finished seventh at the Giro d’Italia and worn the pink jersey, and Michael Rogers is a former time-trial world champion. Not too shabby for a supporting cast.
As the Tour climbed into the mountains, Sky riders have lined up one after the other and kept the race on lockdown. As impressive as the team has been, it could be even stronger. Another of the Sky’s top climbers, Kanstantsin Sivtsov, crashed and broke his leg in race’s first week. Just who are these riders on team Sky, anyway?
For the past two days, the early climbs each stage have been led by Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen, whose white Norwegian road-race champion jersey has been visible on the front of the field. On Thursday, Boasson Hagen controlled the race, and escorted Wiggins and his teammates safely down the Col de la Madeleine.
Boasson Hagen joined Team Sky in 2010 from HTC-Colombia. Currently 25 years old, Boasson Hagen won two stages of the Tour de France in 2011 and a stage at the Giro d’Italia in 2009. He is a five-time Norwegian national time-trial champion, and has won the Gent-Wevelgem cobbled one-day race.
On Thursday, Boasson Hagen led the main field as the race began the massive Col du Glandon, a pass that leads to the hors catègorie Col de la Croix de Fer. As the race wound up the mountain roads, BMC’s Tejay van Garderen and Cadel Evans attacked in rapid succession. Van Garderen wears the white jersey of best young rider and Evans started the day in second overall. Both hoped to break the stranglehold of Team Sky.
Sky answered the BMC rebellion, but it was no longer Boasson Hagen in control; his work for the day was done. When the Norwegian faded, Michael Rogers took over the front for Team Sky. The Australian put in a massive effort, pulling the team to the base of the day’s final climb. The yellow-jersey group shrank precipitously, thanks to the tempo set by Rogers. Soon, only four riders remained on the Sky train: Vincenzo Nibali, Jurgen Van Den Broeck, Janez Brajkovic, and Thibaut Pinot. Rogers swept up Evans and van Garderen in a take-no-prisoners display of team riding.
Rogers turned professional in 1999 with Mapei-Quick-Step. He has three world championship time-trial titles, and he has won the Australian national time-trial championship. Rogers is especially skilled at short stage races, and has won the Tour of California, the Tour Down Under, the Deutschland Tour, and the hilly Vuelta a Andalucía, among others.
Rogers signed with Sky in 2011, but a case of mononucleosis derailed his season. In June, the Australian showed he had regained his strength and finished second behind Bradley Wiggins at the Critérium du Dauphiné. He came in third in the race’s long time trial and followed up with a strong ride through the mountains. So far, he has offered the same support to Wiggins through 11 stages of the Tour de France.