Belfast Telegraph

Giro d'Italia: Philip Deignan has chance to make a big impact in Team Sky set-up

By Paul Murphy

Most casual fans of cycling will be familiar with the recent successes of Team Sky.

The Manchester-based outfit were only established in 2009 but have already brought home the biggest prizes in international road racing.

Formed by former British Cycling performance director Dave Brailsford, the success enjoyed by both Team Sky and the British Olympic squad can hardly be considered coincidental.

Brailsford has honed the methods and techniques required to optimise performance both on the track and on the road, revolutionising performance analysis in an attempt to attain marginal gains at every opportunity.

Where other teams are content to be cautious and not lose a race, Sky have constantly strived to make minor improvements.

One cog in the machine is Steve Peters, who recently shot to fame as the psychiatrist backing Brendan Rodgers' revolution at Liverpool.

Peters has been at Brailsford's side for over a decade, helping his cyclists perform at their optimum level.

Sky have used training methods which differ considerably from traditional thinking. For today's team time trial the squad will prepare with a sharp, precise 20-minute session on stationary bikes, while their preparation for any Grand Tour focuses on intense training at altitude.

They've carried customised bedding for their riders, to the chagrin of even their own staff. But Team Sky are not interested in the conventional – they are obsessed with progression.

The team which sets off in Belfast today may not be as recognisable as fans had hoped.

With former Olympic medallists and Tour de France winners Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins choosing to focus their attentions on the famous yellow jersey this year, Team Sky kick off their Giro d'Italia campaign without a clear leader.

The group is not without talent, however, and a strong team performance in the team time trial can be expected.

They've already won the TTT at the Settimana Coppi e Bartali this year and bagged victories at the Giro d'Italia and Giro del Trentino last season.

Similar success today would see the leader's pink jersey back in Sky's hands, a feat they managed on their Giro debut in 2010 when Wiggins won the opening stage, an individual time trial.

Italian Dario Cataldo will wear jersey 191, the final digit suggesting that he has been entrusted with the role of leader.

The 29-year-old is a strong climber and former Italian time trial champion. Consistency is Cataldo's greatest attribute, but he is unlikely to challenge for the maglia rosa come the end of the race so stage victories may be Team Sky's main goal.

Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen is a multi-talented rider who claimed the team's first Tour de France stage win back in 2011.

Hagen is a strong climber who is more than capable of featuring in sprints, so he could well find himself on the podium at some point.

Manx rider Peter Kennaugh had looked set to be unshackled by the absence of Wiggins and Froome, but illness has forced their fellow Olympian to withdraw this week.

His replacement, Chris Sutton, will find himself leading out Hagen in the sprint finishes and the Australian could be busy on that front with English youngster Ben Swift also eying up some stage wins.

Swift has had a superb season so far with stage victories at the Settimana Coppi e Bartali and in the Basque Country proving his speed at the end of difficult stages.

While Swift may not be the main contender for the two flat stages in Ireland, the Italian terrain should play into his hands.

Letterkenny man Philip Deignan is an intriguing addition to Team Sky's pack.

The 30-year-old grabbed a brilliant stage win at the 2009 Vuelta a España where he finished ninth overall, though he has missed considerable time this year with a broken collarbone. The lack of general classification contenders in the team will suit Deignan, particularly later in the race when he will be a breakaway threat.

Others among Team Sky's ranks are young climbers Sebastien Henau, from Colombia, and Italian Salvatore Puccio who held the famous pink jersey last year on his Giro debut. Kanstantsin Siutsou from Belarus and Austrian Bernhard Eisel round out the group, both bringing valuable experience in light of absences.

Belfast Telegraph