Team Sky 2013: The Pain and the Glory

A beautiful photographic account of Team Sky’s contrasting fortunes at the two biggest stage races of 2013, The Pain and the Glory documents both behind-the-scenes and at the front of the race with Team Sky.

With photos by Scott Mitchell and contributions from riders including Chris Froome and Rigoberto Urán, as well as Team Principal Sir Dave Brailsford, this fascinating and intimate look into the world’s leading team is a must have for any fan of British Cycling’s finest.

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The Giro d’Italia of 2013 was a Grand Tour of mixed fortunes for Team Sky. Bradley Wiggins was forced to pull out after stage 12, having failed to shake off a respiratory infection, yet he was far from alone among those riders who struggled with extremely wet conditions. The arrival of stage 15 turned rain to snow, and when the race briefly hopped over the border into France, the peloton was now faced with a brace of brutal climbs, the Col du Mont Cenis and the infamous Col du Galibier.

From the book:

This stage featured two of the truly brutal climbs of the 2013 Giro, as the race made its only deviation from Italy, crossing the frontier to borrow a pair of the Tour de France’s most notorious landmarks. First up was the long and demoralising 25.5km up the Category-1 Col du Mont Cenis, which has as its reward a stunning Alpine lake to rhapsodise over, but was otherwise an early leg-sapper, ensuring that the second celebrated climb – the infamous 2,645m Col du Galibier – would deal out its trademark shuffle of the general classification. Even the world’s best riders admit they struggle the entire way up the pass, which is tackled via the Col du Télégraphe. The 2013 sequencing of stages heralded full-on racing. With a rest day to follow, there was no reason for riders to hold back.

To the accompaniment of mystical music, TV coverage showcased the scene with surreal shots of fog swirling and clearing to reveal seemingly unreachable jagged peaks. Sub-zero temperatures were forecast. Team cars were banned from sounding their horns for fear of triggering avalanches. Few fans braved the cold; some hearty souls came, left a Union flag mounted on a snow bank and retreated to cheer the riders in spirit. There were mutterings that the riders were unhappy with the conditions set for the descent of the Col du Mont Cenis and fears that the fabled Galibier climb would be cancelled. Earlier, entrenched winter deposits had been cleared with snowploughs and explosives. Confirmation came that the stage would not finish at the summit, but 4.25km further down the climb. This meant the next conqueror of the Galibier would throw his arms up in celebration by the new memorial to Marco Pantani, whose triumph in 1998 ranks as one of the most iconic moments in cycling, achieved on his way to becoming the last man to win the Giro and Tour de France double.

As the peloton pedalled from verdant valley to the monotone granite-and-snow high-alpine landscape, the temperature plummeted. Cold itself acts as a competitive filter. Riders take knocks earlier when energy is used up simply in keeping warm, not pedalling. You have to get the clothing right, the food right, and judge it spot on to be able to go and ‘race’, rather than just get through it. ‘There’s always a big difference in how the riders deal with the cold. Some suffer, others ride without gloves,’ said [Team Sky’s Sports Director] Marcus Ljungqvist, while Danny Pate had his own theory on performance- to-conditions outcome. Coming from Colorado, home to some of the world’s best ski resorts, you would have expected him to feel at home. ‘It’s a different kind of cold because it’s so wet. In Colorado, it’s a dry climate,’ he protested. ‘If you watch the races, it’s guys from climates similar to the prevailing conditions who win. If it starts raining, all the Dutch and Belgian guys come in first . . .’

Physiologically, this was where Team Sky’s weeks spent training at altitude camp in Tenerife paid off. On the day it was a matter of appropriate clothing. ‘Clothing is key to managing the cold and wet weather – ensuring access to garments that are fit-for-purpose and optimised for performance in various weather conditions, but also managing clothing within the race – making sure the right garment is available when required, that the riders can get the garments from the team car when needed with minimal effort, and also shed them when no longer needed,’ said Tim Kerrison, head of performance support. ‘Having the correct protection from the elements can not only make an immediate impact on performance, but can also affect the health of the riders – and weather-related illnesses had a big impact on the peloton in the Giro.’

This was a stage when outside observers glimpsed borderline madness in a rider’s mindset. Cue, Christian Knees: ‘I had a nice moment when my legs felt good and I was still in the group at the Col du Télégraphe going up towards the Galibier. I was next to Cadel Evans, so I asked Rigo loudly on the radio if the race was hard enough for him or whether I should make the tempo harder. Cadel Evans looked at me – his face just said, “You’re crazy!”’

‘It turned out to be a hard one, as expected,’ reported Ljungqvist. ‘The riders made a gentlemen’s agreement not to race over the first climb and then when the GPM [Gran Premio della Montagna] came, they started attacking. A group went away and then it was a full-on race. We tried to attack with Sergio on the Télégraphe to set up a stage win, but with a complete white-out in the final 4km, there wasn’t enough road. Visconti rode away and finished alone.’

Movistar’s Giovanni Visconti, who shares his birthday – January 13 – with the late Pantani, was one of a group of six who jumped away near the top of the Col du Mont Cenis on a quest for mountains points and who then increased their advantage on the run to the foot of the Col du Télégraphe. The Italian went clear of the group on the Télégraphe, spectacularly clearing the summit with a lead of 40 seconds. He maintained his advantage all the way to the finish. Afterwards, having waved the Tricolore and received champagne from podium girls dressed in skiwear, he remained incredulous: ‘I can’t believe I won on such a mythical climb as this.’

There was no loitering for the others. Urán, who came in tenth alongside Nibali and Evans, quickly jumped into a warm car to change into dry clothes. ‘My freezer in Colombia isn’t as cold as it is up here,’ he joked. ‘Fortunately I’ve got used to the cold after racing in Europe for several years, but what frio! We’ve had two tough days, but today was great racing.’