Team Sky concluded their hugely successful first week in the international peloton exactly as they had started it – with another top two places in a bunch sprint, this time in the final stage of the Tour Down Under (TDU) in Adelaide yesterday.
The win went to the Australian sprinter Chris Sutton, and second across the line was New Zealander and team-mate Greg Henderson, the former track world champion who had opened up Sky's victory account exactly a week before in the Cancer Council Helpline Classic one-day race.
Just to add to Sky's good fortune, Henderson's second place in the TDU's final sprint earned him enough bonus seconds to propel him into third spot overall behind the HTC-Columbia sprinter Andre Greipel and Spaniard Luis Leon Sanchez.
For a new team like Sky to have such a major impact in their first races is by no means unprecedented – just last year the Russian squad Katusha won two of their three initial events. What makes Sky's achievements exceptional, though, is that unlike Katusha the British success has come in a high-profile race of the calibre of the Tour Down Under, which is the first event in cycling's top league, the ProTour. This year, the TDU has also had an exceptionally high-quality field, including riders such as the seven-times Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong and reigning world champion Cadel Evans.
"We came here with the objective of a stage win, but to do that and take a third place overall exceeds my expectations," said the team principal, Dave Brailsford. "We've done a lot of practising, training specifically for the bunch sprints, talking through the finales and watching them on video every evening during the race, too, and that back-room work by everybody paid off very well."
The team's next two races will be in the backlands of southern France early next month, when bad weather and poorly surfaced roads will make for far harsher racing conditions than in balmy Australia. But while Brailsford acknowledges the European events could be tougher, he also believes more sophisticated team infrastructure available closer to home – such as Sky's state-of-the-art team bus, vital for rider recovery and not available in Australia – could help Sky prevail again. "We've been working out of the back of a mini-van and with one team car here. That's not been easy, particularly when we've had days when it's been 40 degrees plus. Things like knowing exactly how dehydrated the riders are, which is really important, have been much harder to calculate because we don't have the same equipment that we'll have in Europe.
"What really gets your results, though, is team morale and working well together. And what we've got from here is a really solid foundation for the rest of the year."