The testing nature of this year's Giro d'Italia was encapsulated by both Senior Sports Director Sean Yates and youngster Peter Kennaugh when we caught up with the pair soon after the conclusion of this year's opening Grand Tour.
The Giro route featured no fewer than seven mountain-top finishes and while Team Sky were unable to quite make the top 20 on the general classification, with Swede Thomas Löfkvist their highest-placed rider in 21st, Yates believes the race will prove an invaluable learning experience for many of his riders.
Russell Downing, Lars-Petter Nordhaug and 21-year-olds Davide Appollonio and Peter Kennaugh had never completed a Grand Tour beforehand and Yates admitted: "It was always going to be a tough one for those guys but it’s great experience for them and an important mark in their careers.
"And while it didn't work out on the GC for Thomas, the rest of the guys stuck by him and did their absolute maximum from day one until the final mountain stage. For me that is a real positive thing to take out of it. They worked very well as a team, kept together and morale on the bus was always good - they weren’t down at all despite the testing nature of the race."
Yates also praised the support staff who were pushed to the limit themselves, adding: "For everyone to work together so well is great to see in such a tough Grand Tour – with the Giro notorious for long transfers and late nights. You are together for nearly four weeks as one big family and it’s hard work for everyone concerned but it was a good, fun atmosphere. We stuck to the task right to the end."
In terms of the results the closest Team Sky came to a victory was Appollonio's eyecatching second place to Mark Cavendish on stage 12 and Yates added: "The highlight results-wise was Davide’s sprinting. We’ve obviously known for a while that he was pretty good but he’s really stepped up here and it was a major boost for his confidence when he got that second place to Cav. It won’t be long before he wins races for us."
Appollonio headed home soon after what was the last stage for the sprinters but the other eight members of Team Sky's nine-man squad kept going right through to the end in Milan.
"There were plenty of gritty performances," agreed Yates. "None more so that Russell who went down that cliff on stage 19 yet picked himself up and battled right to the end. And it was the same elsewhere in the team, they stuck to their guns."
Time to switch off
And Kennaugh, who finished highest-placed Briton in 87th in what was his first full Grand Tour, gave an insight into the demands the race places on all the riders.
Heading back to the Isle of Man after the final time trial in Milan, he told us: "It’s hard to sum it all up and explain. I’m tired and the body is wrecked. I’m looking forward to going home and just spending a few days chilling out.
"Maybe in a few weeks time I’ll be able to look back on it and realise what I’ve achieved but at the moment my head’s just spinning. It’s difficult to say what I’ve learnt about myself. I’ve learnt how to suffer."
He added: "The penultimate stage was the toughest for me. It was the first day which I spent in the gruppetto so that’s always hard on the head. And then the last two to three days have been really difficult for me. I was okay for the first two weeks and then all of a sudden it just hit me all at once and I just had to survive after that.
"It was my first full Grand Tour and I didn’t know what to expect. There were lots of different feelings. It was tough in the last week, even just purely riding for the team all the time was a massive effort.
"The hardest aspect was the things that you don’t normally even think twice about; moving through the bunch, going back for bottles and so on - it all just hurt."
The recovery process starts right away for Kennaugh, though he'll be back on his bike in a race environment in little over a fortnight.
"Now it’s just a case of getting back to the sofa, having a nice cup of tea and all that," he explained. "I’ve got Route du Sud in two-and-a-half week’s time so that will be my first race back. But until then I’m just going to fully relax and try and switch off, get away from it and have some time with the family."