"I love it when a plan comes together." If Team Sky were The A-Team of cycling then Dave Brailsford would undoubtedly be Hannibal, although I don't think "I love it when some marginal gains come together" has quite the same ring to it as a catchphrase.
Team Sky are known for their attention to detail. Their seasons are mapped out before they've done their Christmas shopping and they rarely seem to fail to achieve their targets (the big spring classics and Wiggo's tilt at the Giro D'Italia aside).
After a winter of strengthening that saw Michael Kwiatkowski, Michael Golas, Mikel Landa, Benat Intxausti, Gianni Moscon, Alex Peters and Danny Van Poppel join the team, questions turned to what on earth Sky are going to do with all this talent. One of the answers to that is to have a proper go at winning the Giro. We all know that Chris Froome has the tour as his major goal, and that Geraint Thomas will continue his development as a stage racer, with a more protected role in the same race, so the Giro is the chance for others to show their leadership credentials in a Grand Tour.
Michel Landa had a sensational Giro in 2015. Riding for Astana he finished 3rd whilst riding in the services of Fabio Aru. For much of the race he looked the stronger of the two. So no surprise that Sky had him penned, not penciled in, to lead the team at this year's race. Support was supposed to come from another new signing, Benat Intxausti, who finished 8th in the Giro in 2013, he also won a stage in the 2015 edition.
Landa and Intxausti looks like a pretty strong leadership duo for any Grand Tour, let alone one that lacks the presence of the top tier of stage racers, although Alejandro Valverde will be there. Surely another plan is coming together for Team Sky, but there now appears to be a massive torque wrench in the works.
Asides from photoshoots and training rides, Mikel Landa is yet to be seen in a Sky jersey. He was due to begin his season at the Volta A Valencia but pulled out due to illness. His season debut was then moved back to the Ruta Del Sol but that went the same way as Valencia. Tirreno-Adriatico is currently taking place and was part of Landa's season plan, but guess what? He's not there either. He's quickly running out of chances to test his form before the Giro starts on May 6th.
With question marks over Landa, you'd expect Intxausti to step in to the void. But Intxausti is having just as many problems as Landa. Intxausti has got mononucleosis and may already be out of the Giro. Maybe it'll turn out he's just 'really bored'. Wayne's World references aside, Sky might have to think about drawing up a plan B. So who could lead the team at the Giro?
Thomas is Sky's second in command behind Chris Froome. He proved his Grand Tour credentials with his heroic performance in the 2015 Tour De France, and he has now made stage races his goal, slimming down and giving up on his spring classics ambitions. He certainly deserves the chance to lead at the Giro, but would Sky want to totally change the plans for his season at such short notice? I doubt it. Thomas is still developing as a stage racer, and so it will probably benefit him to ride the Tour as a protected rider, but not as a team leader.
Henao feels like a great fit to lead. He's no stranger to the race, and he's shown some solid form so far this season. More importantly he's not certain to be part of Sky's Tour De France team, and so could easily be slotted into the Giro squad.
With Top 10s at both the Giro and the Vuelta, Konig demonstrates just how deep Sky's pool of stage racing talent is. Konig was part of Chris Froome's team at last year's tour and you would assume the plans are that he'd be there again, but in 2015 he did both races and managed 6th in the Giro. That suggests that giving him leadership at the Giro would not have too many consequences for the Tour squad.
Nieve rode to 17th place at last year's Giro, and he finished in 10th place in both 2011 and 2012. In 2015 he skipped the Tour and went on to ride the Vuelta. A real asset in the mountains, he would be a certainty for most other team's Tour squads, but this is Sky and he could easily be spared. I expect him to be back at the Giro, but will he be there as leader?
Has Kwiatkowski got any Grand Tour potential? He always seems to fade once the race hits the high mountains, and he doesn't appear to be able to stay in top condition throughout a 3 week race. In fact I can't quite work out what Sky want with him. He might win an Ardenne classic or two, but are those races really important to Sky? and are they worth the huge wages Kwiatkowski is on? The answer to at least one of those questions is no. Maybe Sky have spotted something more in Kwiatkowski and maybe they are the team that can turn him into a full on Grand Tour contender, they've definitely got previous when it comes to unlocking such hidden potential. Saying that, surely the Giro is way too soon for Kwiatkowski. I'd expect him to go to the Tour and target a stage or two.
Boswell has had a really difficult start to his career in Europe, however all indications are that he is now very much settled. Sky have handled him very well when they could simply have let him go and let Cannondale or one of the US pro-continental teams pick him up. Sky know that this guy has potential, though. Apparently his VO2 max is outstanding and has lead to some riders like Joe Dombrowski, tipping him as a future Grand Tour winner. 2016 is way too soon for him, though. Expect him to go to the Giro in a support role, but be offered a few chances to show his potential.
Poels has been sensational since arriving at Team Sky, but he'll be a key part of the Tour team. He's already leading the team in shorter stage races, and I'd love to see him get the chance in a Grand Tour. He would be my number one pick if I was Dave Brailsford, but will Sir Dave want to jeopardise his contribution to the tour team? I'm not so sure.
This guy is the safe pair of hands. He's the World Time Trial Champion and so should shine in the three time trial stages at this year's Giro. He was also left out of the Team Sky team for the Tour in 2015 and so will probably be going to the Giro anyway. He's not a climber but his engine takes him deeper into mountain stages than most of the peloton, although his best chances to win stages come from breakaways. If only there were something to suggest that riders pigeon holed as time trialists can occasionally do well in Grand Tours. Tom Dumoulin and Bradley Wiggins anyone?
After all this I still expect Mikel Landa to be on the start line in Apeldoorn but whether he is still the leader of the team 3 weeks later in Milan, I doubt very much. I'd love to see Wout Poels get the nod but I expect that when Landa falters, Konig will be the man chasing a podium spot.