Calvados may be the local tipple, but Team Sky are sensibly sticking to Champagne – and just a glass at that – to celebrate their first Tour de France stage win this evening. Edvald Boasson Hagen was the man who got across the line first in Lisieux following a perfect leadout from Geraint Thomas, but it’s a victory that everyone at the British ProTeam has worked for, as Team Principal Dave Brailsford has acknowledged this evening.
“It’s a big day and a super-exciting moment for the whole team – the riders, the staff, our partners and all our fans. This first Grand Tour stage win is also a key moment in our development and our history,” Brailsford explained, adding, “Who better to get it than Edvald who’s been such a great rider for this team?”
The Norwegian’s 2010 season was disrupted by an Achilles injury but he had recovered in time for last year’s Tour, where he got consecutive third place finishes on Stages 4 and 5.
While illness briefly threatened his participation in this year’s race – he was diagnosed with shingles exactly a fortnight ago and withdrew from the Norwegian road race championship as a precaution – the 24-year-old, winner of Gent-Wevelgem and a Giro d’Italia stage two years ago with Columbia Highroad today enjoyed his biggest win since switching to Sky.
The win came just 24 hours after he’d launched his attack too early in Stage 5 in Cap Frehel, believing the line was closer than it was, and could only watch as his rivals swept by with former team mate Mark Cavendish taking the victory.
Today, it was HTC-Highroad’s other sprinter, Matt Goss, who gave Boasson Hagen his sternest test, while the Norwegian’s compatriot, world champion Thor Hushovd of Garmin-Cervelo, finished third.
“I got it wrong in the last metres yesterday so I was more calm today," admitted Boasson Hagen after his win. “I waited a little longer and also had the benefit of Geraint Thomas who came up in the last three kilometres and did a really good lead-out. It’s amazing to win a stage.
“I rode on instinct but I also had a small plan that I had to wait a bit longer than yesterday. I had good feelings on the climb, the legs were good, and it’s really nice when I got up front and saw Geraint there for me.
“When we got up the climb and were on the flat, Geraint gave valuable support,” he continued. “I knew from yesterday that I had good speed for the sprint and that I had a chance today. It’s a pleasure to get the win.
“I went full gas when I saw the line. And when I went over it, it was really nice. I stuck my arms up in the air and it was really good,” concluding with a thought for his fellow Norwegian, Hushovd: “It’s really nice: there are two guys from Norway in the race and we’re both on the podium. Yeah, it’s really nice.”
Heavy rain fell for most of today’s 226.5km stage, the longest of this year’s race, with a tailwind allowing a five-man breakaway to gain more than ten minutes’ advantage at one point, with the final escapee swept up with less than 3km to ride.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given he’s from Wales, Thomas was one rider who didn’t bemoan the weather; on the contrary, he actually relished it.
“I love conditions like that,” the 25-year-old enthused afterwards. “A lot of the guys complain. When it’s raining half of the peloton doesn’t want to race so that’s the advantage that we have.
“Obviously myself and Edvald were really up for today, we knew we could get up there because we’ve been feeling good and it’s perfect finish for us,” he continued.
“The whole team was great today, we all worked well together: Swifty did a great job getting us to the front and keeping us out of the wind to start that climb, then we just had the legs to hold a good position and I could guide Eddy to the last 200 meters and he finished it off a treat. It’s a perfect day for the team,” he added.
While Team Sky’s Tour de France debut 12 months ago, built around a GC challenge from Wiggins that never materialised proved to be an anti-climax, in this year’s edition they’re enjoying a great first week of the race.
Third in Sunday’s Team Time Trial just 4 seconds behind Garmin-Cervelo, they are only 2 seconds behind Jonathan Vaughters’ outfit at the top of the team classification.
Wiggins, Thomas and Boasson Hagen respectively lie sixth, seventh and eighth in the general classification having consistently finished well up the finishing order in the past few days, the team’s performance now capped by that maiden stage win.
“It’s been a while in coming. We didn’t get a stage win last year,” said Thomas, who had come second to Fabian Cancellara on Stage 3,a performance that put him briefly into the best young rider's white jersey. This year, he's worn it ever since Stage 1, while working unseflidhly for his team mates.
"This year we’ve been getting closer and closer so it’s great to finally get that," he reflected.
“These kind of roads are just like I love racing on,” he went on. “You don’t have to go up 15 kilometre mountains in the baking heat and stupid things like that so it’s just good racing and everyone’s getting stuck in. It’s pretty stressful but we’re pretty good at fighting and staying in good positions and putting it on the line for each other.”
Team Sky came into this year’s Tour de France buoyed not only by Bradley Wiggins topping the GC at the Criterium du Dauphiné, but also Thomas’s own overall victory in the Bayern Rundfahrt.
“There’s a great morale in the team at the moment,” he agreed, mentioning those two wins. “It’s been a nice roll-on effect and hopefully we can keep that going with Brad now.”
Sports director Sean Yates, who by coincidence won Stage 6 of the 1988 Tour de France, a performance that put him into the yellow jersey, hailed Boasson Hagen’s victory but hinted that the best is yet to come for Team Sky in this race.
"It was a fantastic finish with Edvald taking the win,” Yates said. “We’ve always known he is a great talent - he’s had a lot of bad luck over the last 18 months but today everything came together for him and the rest of the team.
"It’s fantastic, we’ve been there or thereabouts every day, and although it’s not the icing on the cake, it is the layer right underneath that! The icing on the cake is hopefully still to come but yes, this is a great win for the team.
"We’ve had good morale all Tour, even though we hadn’t won until today,” he continued. “We came close in the TTT and also close to the yellow jersey. Edvald also came close to the stage win yesterday but hit out too early, and he wasn’t going to make that same mistake again.
"It all came right today, the finish worked to Edvald’s advantage because that hill in the final kilometre got rid of the purer sprinters like Cav – who on a flat finish is virtually unbeatable. The way G and the rest of the team guided Edvald was top-notch and then the stage was made for him really. That was a great performance and a great day for the team."
Shortly after midday tomorrow, Boasson Hagen, Thomas and the rest of the team will be back on their bikes to ride the 218km Stage 7 from Le Mans to Chateauroux, where three years ago Mark Cavendish, strongly linked with a move to Sky for next season, got the first of his 16 Tour de France stage wins.
Tonight, however, Brailsford insisted that the team take time to reflect on a job well done and an ambition fulfilled. “It’s onwards and upwards from here but I think we should take a moment to savour it now and really take on board what we’ve achieved. We’re still a young team and to accomplish this in such a short space of time is very exciting and we’ll look forward to building on that now.
“We’ll have a glass of champagne to toast Edvald’s victory tonight but there will be no wild celebrations – we’ll save those until Paris. We just have to enjoy the moment now though because every member of this team has worked so hard to get us where we are today.”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.