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The stats: Are Team Sky the most dominant team ever?

Joe Robinson
6 Aug 2018

Six Tours out of seven with three riders makes for impressive reading but has anybody ever topped this?

Forget Chris Froome's salbutamol investigation, the parliamentary investigation into anti-doping, Bradley Wiggins's Fancy Bears TUE leak or Dave Brailsford calling French spectators' treatment of his team a 'cultural thing'. This is not the real reason for the deep-seated despair of Team Sky.

It's because they are so dominant.

As soon as one individual or one team begins to dominate an aspect of our sport, spectators become uncomfortable, looking for a change, an alternative to the status quo.

This isn't a unique moment for cycling. It's a sport that rewards and idolises the losers and outcasts and attacks its winners.

People loved Raymond Poulidor for coming second and ignored Jacques Anquetil for winning five Tour de France titles. A spectator punched Eddy Merckx in the abdomen, preventing a sixth yellow jersey. We remember Marco Pantani but try to forget Lance Armstrong

The roadside treatment of Team Sky is not a million miles away from those before them, it just seems more concentrated because it's happening now.

However, this does not stop us asking the question of 'is Team Sky's dominance of the Tour that unprecedented?' It's a valid question.

So Cyclist took a dive into the record books to see if Team Sky really are something else or it's just more of the same.

The Team Sky age

Team Sky have dominated the Tour de France since 2012. Bradley Wiggins and his mod haircut got it all going in 2012 before the reign of Chris Froome began in 2013.

Four Tour titles - and a Giro and Vuelta - later, Froome handed over control to Welshman Geraint Thomas who secured his first Grand Tour last month.

The British WorldTour team have clinched six of the seven previous Tours and would have arguably had a clean sweep if it wasn't for Froome crashing in 2014. 

These six wins have been shared out across three individual riders who all ride under the Great British flag.

Alongside these six victories, Team Sky have also managed to occupy two steps on the podium on two occasions with Froome's second and third in 2012 and 2018 respectively. Mikel Landa also chipped in with fourth in 2017.

The biggest winning margin was Froome's 2013 victory, in which he Nairo Quintana (Movistar) finished 4 minutes 20 drift.

Froome also had the smallest winning margin of 54 seconds over Rigoberto Uran (EF-Drapac) in 2017, although victory never seemed in doubt.

A pretty dominant period but you do not have to go back too far to find something similar. Ironically, it was the team of recent Froome critic Bernard Hinault that shared a very similar past. 

In fact, both Team Sky and Hinault's Renault team won six Tour in seven seasons, with the French team taking their victories between 1978 and 1984. 

Renault also provided multiple winners from the same nation, although only the two different riders, with spectacled Frenchman Laurent Fignon adding two Tours to Hinault's four.

In their reign, Renault also placed riders in the top 10 alongside their eventual winner on three occasions, most notably Greg LeMond's third in 1984.

Where Renault's victories could be regarded as even more dominant is their margin of victories. Grand Tour racing was a different beast in the 1980s but Hinault's margin of 14 minutes 34 in 1981 or Fignon's 10 minutes in 1985 seems pretty dominant to me.

The unspoken

Beyond Team Sky and Renault others have also dominated the Tour for large waves of time.

Barnesto, now Movistar, took the first five Tours de France of the 1990s thanks to the dominant Miguel Indurain. Added to Pedro Delgardo's 1988 title and Oscar Pereiro's 2006 victory, the Spanish team are the most successful team in the Tour since the Second World War.

There was also one team that managed a more dominant run than both Renualt and Team Sky, but their names have been etched out of history.

That is of course US Postal Service (later Discovery Channel). The American team that took seven Tours back-to-back with Armstrong between 1999 and 2005. 

With Alberto Contador's victory in 2007, eight out of nine yellow jerseys belonged to one team, the most impressive show of force cycling had seen.

Obviously now, only Contador's 2007 victory stands but it is impossible to ignore the stranglehold that team once had at the Grand Boucle, a period of domination that far exceeds Team Sky.

Italia and Espana 

Moving away from the Tour, the same dominance has never really existed at the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana

Since the war, plenty of teams have doubled up with two consecutive victories at the Giro, such as Carrera Jeans and Saeco, but only one team has really held down a period of dominance, Molteni.

Fronted by the most successful rider of all time, Eddy Merckx, the Italian team took a trio of wins from 1972 to 1974. But this is a far cry away from the command seen at the Tour.

Maybe an indicator of the unpredictability of the Giro or teams' lack of focus on the Italian race compared to its French counterpart.

You have to delve to before and during the war to see any real dominance. 

Between the years of 1921 and 1940, Italian team Legnano walked away with 11 Giro victories in 20 years, shared out across five Italians including Alfredo Binda, Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi, three of the greatest ever.

This included the 1922 vintage in which Legnano secured the top four riders on the standings, but this should come as no surprise considering only four teams competed while others raced as individuals.

Comparing post-War to pre-War has its problems, cycling was a completely different sport then, yet it is interesting to note that even in this period Legnano could not replicate the strike rate of Team Sky in the 21st century.

Moving on to the Vuelta and you find even fewer teams asserting their authority.

As a race the Vuelta is the youngest sibling of the Grand Tours, often being moved around the calendar to accommodate the Tour and Giro while also being the last of the three to swell to three weeks.

Riders and teams seldom focus their entire season around the Vuelta and this shows in the mix of teams that have won the event.

Again, like the Giro, teams have doubled up victories in consecutive seasons but only one side has managed to top this, ONCE between 1995 and 1997.  

The Vuelta and Giro simply haven't experienced the same supremacy that Team Sky has shown at the Tour.

And the one-days?

Comparing victories in the Grand Tours to the one-day Monuments is a little like comparing apples and oranges. Monuments are unpredictable, and although the strongest rider usually wins, it is much harder for one team to assume control for multiple years, no matter how hard Quick-Step Floors try.

Yet that doesn't stop us comparing Sky's Tour run to those of the Monuments.

The clearest parallel line runs alongside Milan-San Remo. Bianchi managed seven Primaveras in 10 editions although spread across 12 years because of the Second World War. 

A Merckx-inspired Molteni conquered five in seven during the 1970s and Team Telekom took four in five at the turn of the 20th century.

Move further into Spring, no team has got close to six in seven, post-War, at the Tour of Flanders. A Tom Boonen and Stijn Devolder double sandwich in the 2000s got Patrick Lefevre's Quick-Step four in five but that's as close as it got.

Lefevre got closer to all-out control in Paris-Roubaix while managing Mapei. Probably the greatest Classics team of all time, Franco Ballerini, Andrea Tafi and Johan Museeuw helped Mapei to five Roubaix wins in six including three podium clean sweeps.

In the Monuments, this period has only ever been matched at Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Again it was Merckx and again it was Molteni, this time with five wins between 1971 and 1976. Still a victory off Team Sky's Tour streak.

Finally is the Giro di Lombardia, the last major race of the season. The best post-War record here; Bianchi taking four in four from 1946 to 1949.

Will we soon be witnessing Team Sky's fourth Tour winner in Egan Bernal?

So to round up on all of these facts and figures to some sort of conclusion, yes, Team Sky's hold of the Tour is pretty significant, it's only been matched once in any major race since the War. 

But it's not out of the ordinary. Just look back to when Molteni and Merckx would win multiple Grand Tours and Monuments in a single season.

Almost every race has periods dominated by one team or even just one rider but, like it will for Team Sky, this always come to an end.