Tour de France: 10 steps to glory

When Sky formed in 2010, they said they'd win the Tour within five years. Alasdair Fotheringham reveals the professionalism and planning that will see them hit that goal way ahead of schedule

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The Independent Online

1. 26 February 2009 GB Federation performance managers Dave Brailsford and Shane Sutton see Bradley Wiggins on a solo long-distance break in the 2006 Tour de France, and have the idea of creating Britain's first ever team in the ProTour – cycling's top league. Their project receives a huge boost after the plethora of track and road medals in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when Sky opt to come on board and in February 2009 the team is officially announced as a future reality for 2010. At the same time Wiggins finishes fourth in the Tour de France, equalling GB's previous best ever result overall which came in the 1984 race for Scottish climbing genius Robert Millar. The goal is to win the Tour in the next five years.

2. 4 January 2010 Sky's team is launched and is headlined by Wiggins, who after prolonged negotiations with his Garmin squad to break his contract, comes across to the British squad. Sky has Brailsford and Sutton doubling up their GB federation roles as principal management players. "It's like coming home," Wiggins says. Other top Sky riders include Spanish Classics star Juan Antonio Flecha and Wiggins' team pursuit gold medallist Geraint Thomas. However, Mark Cavendish, the other part of Sky's original game-plan, has already re-signed for his HTC squad. Sky's chief sports director, Sean Yates, sets the bar high for the fledgling ProTour squad, saying "Wiggins can win the Tour".

3. July 2010 Sky come down to earth with a bang as Wiggins finishes 24th in the Tour de France. Unable to hold the pace in the Alps, Wiggins is so far out of the overall classification that after two days in the mountains Yates announces they will be switching objectives to stage wins. None materialise, however.

4. Autumn 2010 Tim Kerrison comes on board at Sky. The 40-year-old Australian, formerly a rowing and swimming coach, began working with Wiggins as Sky tried to turn the Briton round after his near-disastrous Tour performance. "I [now] train like the swimmers train," Wiggins says, "constantly through the year, maybe not in the classic sense of cycling. Rather than just building form from January onwards, I'm trying to be 95 or 97 per cent through the year." In 2011, the Briton has a solid early spring season, finising third in Paris-Nice, but opts to skip the Tour of Italy, his warm-up race for the previous two years so he will come to the Tour fresher.

5. July 2011 Following a superb victory in the Tour's main build-up race, the Critérium du Dauphiné in June, disaster strikes when Wiggins crashes out of the 2011 Tour with a broken collarbone. However, Sky handle the loss of their leader far better than his below-expectations ride in 2010. After taking their first ever Tour stage win in Lisieux in the first week with Edvald Boasson Hagen, "Hagen-Dazs" snatches another one in Turin. Geraint Thomas leads the Best Young Rider (BYR) competition in the first week, and goes on a classic long break in the Pyré*ées, whilst Rigoberto Uran leads the BYR classification in the third week. Wiggins, meanwhile, has all the frustration of knowing his build-up was the right one, but he has not had the chance to prove it.

6. September 2011 Wiggins bounces back with his first Grand Tour podium finish, third in the Tour of Spain behind team-mate Chris Froome. Wiggins leads the Spanish race for three weeks before he and Froome are dropped by eventual winner Juan Jose Cobo on the fearsome Angliru climb. However, Wiggins' best Grand Tour performance in two and a half years reaffirms his ambition to win the Tour outright. "People would tell me I could win the Tour but I didn't believe them," Wiggins later said. "Now, I do."

7. September 2011 Barely a week after he has completed the Tour of Spain, Sky sign Chris Froome for a rumoured €1.3m a year, fending off interest from Wiggins' old team, Garmin, amongst others. With the benefit of hindsight, Froome's presence in this year's Tour has been, without a doubt, hugely beneficial for Wiggins, providing the Londoner with the safest of safety nets on the climbs, and also ensuring that what would have been one of Wiggins' top rivals remains on side. Cavendish also joins the Sky team roster for 2012. The World Championships win for Great Britain in Denmark with the "Cav-man" provides an enormous morale boost to British riders that arguably has had a knock-on beneficial effect to their performances right through 2012, and that includes the Tour.

8. 19 February 2012 Wiggins makes his season debut with a hugely encouraging time trial win in the Tour of the Algarve, a tiny stage race in Portugal. Over the next three months, he then takes a string of prestigious victories: in March he takes Britain's first victory in Paris-Nice, the season opener, in 45 years; in May, GB's first victory ever in Switzerland's second biggest stage race, the Tour de Romandie, and in June – crucially – he repeats his Critérium du Dauphiné, where Sky place three riders in the top four overall. Team-wise and individually, Wiggins and Sky are unquestionably ready for the Tour.

9. June 2012 Cavendish agrees that the green jersey and stage wins will be a secondary objective, as opposed to Sky's initial plan of trying to take green and yellow in one fell swoop. The world champion's agreement to take a back seat in the Tour – which is no small concession for one of the greatest sprinters of all time – is vital for Sky who concentrate all their firepower on Wiggins. Although Cavendish still has Bernard Eisel as his "sherpa" for the mountain stages, it is a far cry from the previous support levels he was used to when the HTC sprint trains would sweep into each finish at the head of the pack. But as Cavendish puts it, "to be part of the first GB team to take the yellow jersey in Paris is an opportunity I didn't want to miss".

10. 30 June 2012 Wiggins finishes second in the Tour's opening prologue then stays out of trouble in the crash-ridden first week. His first ever Tour leader's jersey comes on stage seven at the Planche des Belle Filles summit finish, after Sky's climbing trio of Mick Rogers, Richie Porte and Froome decimate the field. Wiggins then reinforces his lead enormously in the Besançon individual time trial, where Froome finishes second and moves into second overall. Neither attacks by Vicenzo Nibali in the Alps and the Pyré*ées nor Froome all but dropping his team leader on the climbs fail to dent Wiggins' lead. For the first time in 108 years a Tour win for Britain is all but in the bag.