With Froome out, how Team Sky is moving smoothly through the gears of plan B

Team effort. Kim Ludbrook/EPA

After the fabulous start of the 2014 Tour de France in Yorkshire, British hopes have been somewhat dashed by the withdrawal of the two leading riders, the 2013 winner Chris Froome and the Manx missile, Mark Cavendish, GB rider with the most stage wins. Interestingly much focus has been given to the tactics employed by Team Sky and the decision not to take former Tour de France winner Sir Bradley Wiggins as back-up to the lead rider.

But what about those who are participating? While it does seem to make sense to suggest Wiggins should have ridden, instead of regretting the decision not to include him, we should think about those who are riding for Sky and how they will cope with the dramatic and unforeseen change in the Tour’s billing.

The notion that the form book will predict the final podium places is questionable. This does not mean we should do away with it, but we know that sport is anything but predictable. The events of the last few days provide perfect examples of this. If I knew that Germany would beat Brazil 7-1 and that both British riders would withdraw from the Tour, I would’ve placed one pound bets on these possibilities happening – and they would be paying me many more in return.

And so should Sky have a plan B, as has been suggested? Of course, they already have a plan B – and a plan C and D. Each day of the Tour requires the riders and to make decisions on what to do and these decisions are made with team support. One team does not know the day to day tactics of another team, of course, and so if one team launches an attack, then other teams will need to work out how to cope.

A key question is how will Team Sky’s Richie Porte cope with being the number one, protected rider? Firstly Porte will recognise that the nature of his role and the challenges involved has changed – that this means he is now in the hot seat when it comes to making decisions. Previously, he reacted to Froome’s call which last year saw him take a time penalty to collect energy gels. Now it is Porte who will be monitoring his state of fatigue and if he feels tired, needs water or gels, and determining whether he requires protecting from the wind or help pacing uphill. He goes from a support role to the one who’s calling the shots.

Self-control and focus

Research shows that self-control is an effortful process. So if Porte finds being the boss challenging then the additional resources that it requires could be responsible for taking the edge off his performance. Success in elite sport is attained by the finest margins and so this difference could be all-important.

However, in Plan A, the master plan, judging from the success delivered previously, there seems to have always been a plan to ride as fast and efficiently as possible, and a goal to have enough resources available to compete over the critical aspects of the race. By focusing on the process and by focusing on delivering as best a performance as possible for each moment of the race, we should not rule out that they could still win the Tour.

After all, we don’t know how well the other teams will perform, if any of the other riders will crash, or how they will cope with fatigue from mountains, and so on. There are so many possibilities in terms of what can happen that are outside of the control of the riders. And this unpredictability over such a long and varied course is what makes the Tour de France so exciting.