With deep squad, Sky off to hot start

The British team could be a threat in every stage race it starts this season, thanks to some new signees over the winter.

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The sun never sets on the growing Team Sky empire. The squad is hot out of the gates in 2016, winning races over the weekend in three time zones around the globe.

Two-time Tour de France champion Chris Froome is a favorite in any race he starts — which he proved again with a thrilling GC victory at the Herald Sun Tour to open his season — but Sky is so stacked in talent, it can be a legitimate GC threat even when Froome isn’t racing.

Just look at what happened in the opening races of 2016. Wout Poels revealed he’s more than just a climbing domestique, riding Astana’s Fabio Aru off his wheel en route to winning two stages and the overall at the rebooted Volta a Valenciana in Spain. Peter Kennaugh was second to Froome in Australia, and Sergio Henao nearly beat the Aussies on home turf, taking third at the Santos Tour Down Under to open the WorldTour last month. Elia Viviani even took a sprint at the Dubai Tour to sweeten the pot.

“I think coming here, and walking away with the overall victory is an amazing way to start off,” Froome said after his first win since last year’s Tour de France. “I am seeing the results of some hard training this winter, but this season is lining up to be one of the most eventful of my career so far.”

Froome is clearly the gravitational center at Sky, and the team will back him 100 percent as the Kenyan-born star targets winning his third yellow jersey and a gold medal at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

But there’s room for more than one star in the ever expanding Sky galaxy. If Froome wasn’t scary enough already, the squad is revealing new GC depth that could prove deadly across the entire season.

“This will be a very special year for Team Sky,” team boss Dave Brailsford said at the team camp last month. “I don’t know why we cannot go for all three grand tours.”

It’s still early days, but Sky looks to be on an even higher level going into 2016.

Already bolstered by early-season success, the team’s major off-season GC signing, Mikel Landa, hasn’t even raced yet. Brailsford tapped Landa to replace Richie Porte, who made trails for BMC Racing, and will debut next week at the Ruta del Sol in Spain. Also with new additions Beñat Intxausti and Michal Kwiatkowski, Sky is deeper than it’s ever been.

“Sky made a place for me, and that’s why I’m here,” Landa told VeloNews contributor Gregor Brown. “I’m preparing for the Giro, and the team is doing everything it can to help me for that goal.”

The team’s GC universe also extends to Kwiatkowski and Geraint Thomas, two riders who are not hiding their ambitions to target stage racing. Kwiatkowski, the 2014 world champion, and Thomas both believe they have possibilities in one-week stage races and hope to develop into grand tour contenders some day.

“It’s come to a point where I need to decide what road I want to go down,” said Thomas, confirming he won’t race the northern classics this year. “It was a hard decision to make, because E3 Harelbeke is my biggest win and I love that race. It’s hard to miss it, but you have to make the call sometime.”

Here’s how Sky’s GC aspirations are shaping up this season. Froome will race Paris-Nice, Volta a Catalunya, Tour de Romandie, and the Critérium du Dauphiné, four races he’s either already won or could win. Thomas, however, will get his chance, especially at Paris-Nice, as Froome will likely keep things on a slow simmer until aiming to hit peak form for the Tour-Rio double.

Landa, the team’s new GC ace, will debut at Ruta del Sol and will start Tirreno-Adriatico, the Vuelta al País Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country), and Giro del Trentino, three races he will target for victory as he prepares to take on the mantle of leadership before the Giro.

Behind Froome and Landa, riders such as Thomas, a healthy and motivated Henao, Poels, Kwiatkowski, Leopold Konig, and Kennaugh will get their chances to chase their own results throughout the calendar.

Anything can happen during a racing season, but Sky is poised to be competitive in every stage race it starts this year. The spring classics, however, remain a challenge. Sky still has yet to win a “monument” since its founding in 2010.

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