Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford’s ambition was vindicated today as Geraint Thomas set up a first Tour de France stage win for the British squad and Norwegian prodigy Edvald Boasson Hagen.
Welshman Thomas surged up the final climb with Boasson Hagen in tow and the 24-year-old from Lillehammer burst across the line for victory on the rain-soaked 226.5-kilometre sixth stage from Dinan to Lisieux.
HTC-Highroad’s Matt Goss was second, with Boasson Hagen’s compatriot Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervelo), wearing the race leader’s yellow jersey, third.
Brailsford, as British Cycling performance director, led Britain to eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics before dividing his time with the Team Sky project established with the bold aim of producing a British Tour champion within five years.
After learning lessons in their debut season in 2010, Brailsford was both elated and measured after today’s success, which he planned to toast with a glass of champagne.
Brailsford said: “The bus nearly turned over we were jumping up and down so much.
“It’s a huge moment for the team – we’re not even a year and a half old and we’ve won a stage of the Tour de France.
“We’re ambitious people – we always have been – and we sometimes get criticised for that.
“We had a tough Tour last year – everyone knows that. But if you don’t aim high in life you’re not going to get anything.”
After a first Tour stage success, Team Sky can now turn their attentions to leader Bradley Wiggins, who remained sixth overall, 10 seconds behind Hushovd and two seconds ahead of Boasson Hagen and Thomas.
Brailsford added: “To come here, get a stage win early on, takes the pressure off Bradley.
“It is all about momentum, energy and confidence. I think we’re building momentum, we’ve got good energy, confidence was high heading into this race but now it’s even more so. It’s exciting times.”
Wiggins was pleased Boasson Hagen was rewarded for his selfless work for the team.
He added: “It’s great he got a win because he’s the first to sacrifice his chances for me.
“Now, when he’s working in the days to come he’ll know he’s already got something.”
Since the idea of Team Sky was first established, Brailsford has spoken of the mutual benefits for British Cycling, using Thomas as an example.
The 25-year-old from Cardiff has been one of the main protagonists of the opening six days of the Tour and was again in sensational form today.
Brailsford added: “There is no better leadout man in the world than Geraint Thomas – I don’t care what anybody says. Phenomenal.
“He’s got the ability across the board, he’s a fantastic asset to this team.”
Thomas retained the lead in the best young rider’s classification ahead of his room-mate Boasson Hagen, who has been eager to succeed the Welshman in the race for the white jersey.
Asked who has the bragging rights tonight, Thomas said: “I think Eddy probably, but I played a key role so he can’t have it all.”
Thomas finished fifth on yesterday’s stage, won by fellow Briton and reported Team Sky target Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad), after attempting to lead out Boasson Hagen and was pleased the tactic worked successfully today.
He added: “I tried to deliver him as fast as I could to 200 (metres) and he finished it off a treat.
“There’s great morale in the team at the moment from Bayern (Rundfahrt) where I won, and the Dauphine (Libere) where Brad won – it’s been a nice roll-on effect and hopefully we can keep that going with Brad now.”
Boasson Hagen joined Team Sky with many in the sport predicting big things were to come and he twice finished on the podium in the opening week of the 2010 Tour.
The Norwegian was thrilled to break his Tour duck and praised Thomas’ contribution.
He said: “When we got up the climb and were on the flat, Geraint gave valuable support.
“I knew from yesterday that I had good speed for the sprint and that I had a chance today.
“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.”
World champion Hushovd was delighted for his compatriot.
The Garmin-Cervelo sprinter said: “I didn’t have the legs so I’m really pleased Edvald won.
“It’s incredible what Edvald did today. He’s such a young rider and he’s so strong at the finish of a stage like this so of course I’m really happy for him.”
Cavendish was unable to contest the finale today, finishing more than a minute behind, but tomorrow’s 218km seventh stage finishes in Chateauroux, the town where he claimed his first Tour win in 2008 and few would be against the Manxman adding to his prolific record.