Bernhard Eisel is counting on experience as much as anything to earn him selection in Sky’s Tour de France team that will attempt to win a second consecutive race title from the end of this month.
The 32-year-old has been training as if he will be selected to make a 10th career appearance at the centenary edition of the race in which team-mate and 2012 runner-up Chris Froome is aiming to go one better in the absence of champion Bradley Wiggins.
Eisel hasn’t raced with Froome since the Tour last year where he was a valuable road captain to Wiggins in flatter stages and equally a right-hand man to Mark Cavendish whom he chose not to follow to Omega Pharma-Quick Step.
“If they take me it’s not because of my massive numbers,” Eisel told Cycling Weekly earlier this month.
Eisel, in terms of Tour appearances, is the most experienced rider on Sky’s supposed long-list. Froome has competed at the event twice in 2008 (81st) and 2012 (2nd). His chief lieutenant Richie Porte has recorded the same number riding for Alberto Contador in 2011 and Wiggins last season. Vasil Kiryienka has raced in as many whilst Britain’s Geraint Thomas is at three. German workhorse Christian Knees is possibly closest to Eisel on seven.
Recent Tour winners have more often than not had a respected race veteran in their arsenal. Wiggins was able to rely on the insurmountable knowledge of Michael Rogers (Saxo-Tinkoff) last year whilst 2011 champion Cadel Evans (BMC) could rely on the support of stayer George Hincapie if necessary.
“You have situations you already went through over the years and you know the climbs, you know who is going to attack on that climb, who lives there, which team has interest in this stage. Small details, and definitely knowing the roads,” Eisel explained of the benefits.
Wiggins had two road captains in Rogers and Eisel last season that could make tough in-race calls, but Froome may not need the same guidance.
“Not every rider is the same,” Eisel said.
“In interviews I read after [the Tour], Bradley relied on that. He was like, ‘OK, they know what they’re doing. I don’t have to make a call or say go faster or slower.’ Froomey I see more as an aggressive rider.”
Sky may be younger, comparably, in terms of Tour specific experience and without some of the key senior staff, such as Sean Yates, who helped propel the outfit to victory last season. But Eisel doesn’t see that as a disadvantage and is confident the squad could again record a double podium finish, maybe this time with Froome and Porte.
“We did it last year and they look like they can do it again this year. In my view, it’s possible,” Eisel said. “Our guys are hungry.”
Sky is expected to announce its Tour team this week. Froome has won four of the five stage races he has competed in thus far and will go to the Corsica start as yellow jersey favourite.
Eisel focused heavily on the Spring Classics earlier this year after which he took a break. The Austrian resumed racing at the Tour of Norway, which team-mate Edvald Boasson Hagen won, and then competed at the Tour de Suisse. He has not ruled out a start at the Vuelta a Espana later this year.
The former Ghent-Wevelgem champion has not missed a Grand Depart since making his Tour debut with FDJeux.com in 2004, but is under no illusion that the selection race, especially at a general classification team of the calibre of Sky, is tight.
“I’m pretty sure in my most of the other teams I would definitely go to the Tour but I think we have a luxury problem here with riders,” Eisel said. “I definitely want to race the Tour.”