Cycling: Brailsford’s exit ‘will not be a Fergie moment’ England’s insist British team

 

Ian Drake, British Cycling’s chief executive, insists Sir Dave Brailsford’s departure as performance director will not prove a “Fergie” moment for Britain’s most successful sporting institution of the last decade.

Brailsford will focus his attention on Team Sky and be replaced in the British set- up by a trio of coaches.

Shane Sutton, Brailsford’s right-hand man for a decade, becomes technical director and will work alongside Andy Harrison, the programme director installed in the wake of London 2012, and a new appointment as head of performance services. The position will be advertised shortly, with Dan Hunt, who left British Cycling for the Premier League, a potential frontrunner.

Discussions over Brailsford’s role at British Cycling, in which he has made this country the dominant Olympic force, have been on-going since London 2012 as it became clear the task of juggling his roles at the Manchester Velodrome and Team Sky was becoming increasingly difficult. Brailsford has not attended the last two track world championships, including February’s in Colombia where Britain returned their worst results of his tenure.

The change did not come as a surprise to many, including Sir Bradley Wiggins. He said: “I don’t think all was well at the velodrome, there was a lot of sort of sniping and things. He’s obviously been under pressure for a while.”

Drake claims it is the right time for change, two years ahead of Rio 2016, and that the strength of the system built by Brailsford ensures his departure will not cause long-term damage. Sir Alex Ferguson was one of those Brailsford consulted in the course of plotting his departure.

“With any iconic figure such as Sir Alex or Sir Dave there are always going to be those questions asked,” said Drake. “What you need to look at is if we go back to London 2012 we had a very young squad – the average age was 25 and eight of those medallists were under 25. It is not as if the talent is going away.

“We have been talking about this for a couple of years. Importantly, Dave is going to remain a critical friend to the programme. Team Sky made a massive contribution to medal success in 2012 and we envisage a similar scenario for Rio as well. It is not as if we are going to lose that expertise. I’m not worried about it because of the system and legacy that Dave has left behind.”

Sutton went public with his belief the system needed freshening up before Brailsford’s departure was announced yesterday. Sutton’s new role will still see him oversee the riders on the road to Rio. Britain’s women’s squad has never been stronger, despite its relative youth, but the men’s is struggling.

Sutton will, though, have to share the overall leadership role with Harrison and the new head of performance services, with Drake claiming it is to protect against resources being stretched too thinly.

Brailsford has no doubt he has left a system fit for purpose. He said: “This is a big step but it is the right decision. Since London 2012, we have worked hard on succession planning and that has meant we’ve got to a point where I can move on knowing the team will go from strength to strength.”

Brailsford, who joined British Cycling in 1998 and became performance director in 2003, will now concentrate on Sky’s quest to win a third successive Tour de France. Under his direction Britain won eight gold medals in Beijing and London.

The sense of an era closing was heightened yesterday with psychiatrist Steve Peters also ending his involvement. He is working with Liverpool and England at the World Cup but will help find a replacement before he departs.

New-look structure of British cycling

Shane Sutton: technical director

The straight-talking Australian was head coach under Brailsford and was a key player in the success of 2008 and 2012. Will focus on the Olympic squads.

Andy Harrison: programme director

Joined last year from English Institute of Sport. Charged with ensuring young talent rolls off the production line.

To be appointed: head of performance services

The new role will be ranked alongside the other two and also report to the chief executive. The recruitment process will begin shortly.

Robin Scott-Elliot

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