Cycling: Sky answer critics with debut win

Henderson and Sutton claim Adelaide one-two in British team's maiden race
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The Independent Online

Britain's first top-level cycling squad, Team Sky, got their debut season off to a flying start yesterday with victory and second place in the team's first-ever race, the Cancer Council Helpline Classic in Adelaide.

Following faultless groundwork by their blue and black-clad Sky team-mates, New Zealander Greg Henderson and the Australian Chris Sutton blasted across the finish line comfortably ahead of the pack and both with their arms raised high.

"Long after I've retired, these results will remain one of the highlights of my career," Sky team principal Dave Brailsford told The Independent. Coming from the architect of British cycling's gold medal rush in the Beijing Olympics, that is high praise.

"Victories like this are storybook stuff and, psychologically, winning our first-ever race is brilliant for the team's morale. The lads worked hard on doing a good lead-out [the 50mph build-up for the bunch sprint], they had a clear plan and they executed it perfectly," said Brailsford.

"We knew exactly who was going to do what, and we dominated the whole sprint from start to finish."

Albeit in a far smaller race, Henderson's and Sutton's joint victory salute was reminiscent of the celebrations by cycling's top sprinter, Manxman Mark Cavendish, and HTC-Columbia team-mate Mark Renshaw last July, when they headed the charge in the Tour de France's Champs-Elysées finale.

However, despite proving almost unbeatable in the bunch sprints last year, Cavendish's squad suddenly – and unexpectedly – found themselves on the losing side in Adelaide.

Cavendish was not present, but HTC-Columbia's "train" – the long line of team workers that sets a ferociously high pace before fast men like Cavendish dash away in the final metres – looked to be in complete control for the squad's second sprinter, Germany's André Greipel.

However, with less than 2km to go, the HTC-Columbia line was edged out of their leading position by four Team Sky riders, and then Henderson – a former team-mate of Cavendish –went on to clinch the win. "I'm sure Cav will have been watching and seen the hard work we did," Brailsford said. "At the same time, we've answered our critics who said our plans to do well was just marketing hype."

Among those who have predicted a strong debut season for Sky is seven-times Tour winner Lance Armstrong, who took part in the Cancer Council Helpline Classic and tried a daring, if ultimately over-ambitious, mid-race breakaway. "I expect Sky to be very successful," Armstrong said before the race. As far as Sky's first race went, his prediction proved very accurate.

Next up for Team Sky will be the Tour Down Under, a six-day stage race starting tomorrow and held around the Adelaide region. Often decided by bunch sprints, Sky will be among the favourites now, although Brailsford insisted: "There's no more pressure on us after this. Our aim will be just to ride well, take it on the stage by stage and do what we can."