Cycling: Fergie seeks inside track from the man with the Midas touch

Dave Brailsford provides a bespoke service in how to succeed
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Dave Brailsford, the big wheel behind the nation's cycling revolution, is currently the most wanted man in Britain. Since he returned from Beijing, where he presided over those unforgettable days of gold pedal power, he has been fending off big-money overtures not only from other countries keen for him to run their show but also other sports here. Everyone, it seems, wants to tap into the Brailsford brainbox. Including an even bigger wheel across the city from the hub of his phenomenal production line at the Manchester Velodrome, Sir Alex Ferguson.

That, Brailsford admits, was one offer he couldn't refuse, which is why this week he will share the secrets of his and Britain's successes with Fergie and his coaching staff at United's Carrington training base. The modest performance director of British Cycling says it will be "an exchange of ideas", but there is little doubt that Ferguson is keen to know exactly how Brailsford has motivated a group of athletes to such an unprecedented level of achievement.

Brailsford has also been called in to talk to academy kids at Chelsea and Tottenham (where the senior squad might be a more suitable case for treatment), and says he feels "humbled" to be in such demand. "I'm hugely impressed that the biggest sports club in the world should be interested enough to ask me tocome along and talk about whatwe've done and how we've done it and look at different ideas. That should send a message out to anyone who is involved in sport at any level.

"If there's one person in sport I would like to sit down with and discuss common ground, it is Sir Alex. I have total respect for the guy. What interests me about him is how he has kept the team going through one transition to another. To me that's just unbelievable skill."

One thing Fergie will discover about Brailsford's skills is that it is not only because of his baldness that he never employs the hairdryer. "I don't believe in bawling people out. That only creates a sense of fear, and I don't think that brings out the best in people."

But Brailsford does operate behind a philosophy of tough love. He will tell Ferguson: "We're funded to win medals, not finish fourth. 'We don't do four to eight' is one of our mottos. Our podium programme means by definition that we have only podium riders, and if they are not capable of that, they are off it." On their bikes, so to speak.

It is this approach that has made him, and his 30 coaches, a magnet for so many tempting offers. So far all have been resisted. "Our coaches did a fantastic job and we've managed to hang on to all of them. Some of the offers have been very flattering and quite substantial. It was quite a shock, unnerving almost. In fact it disorientated me for quite a while. There were a whole host of them, some from overseas, some from other sports, some bizarre things which made me think,'What the hell would I do there?'

"But with the London Games in 2012, it would be crazy to go. This is the greatest job in the world. I couldn't stomach leading a foreign team in the next Olympics. National pride would not allow me to do it, no matter what they paid me. And as for other sports, well, what I know best is cycling, and I'm sticking to that. I've built a fan-tastic team here. It would be so easy to believe the hype and think I could go on and replicate this somewhere else, but I am one piece of a complex operation, like a pop group, and within that group you have different sorts of players but when you all come together it gels, it works."

Next weekend some of the 14 Olympic medallists, including eight golden ones – almost half of the British total – will be back on home track at the Velodrome for the first of 20 World Cup events before 2012, among them Bradley Wiggins and Victoria Pendleton. "I don't think anyone from Beijing will be on peak form, you wouldn't expect that," Brailsford says. "But on the other hand, it's in Manchester, it sold out in a couple of days so there's an element of responsibility on us to say thank you to the Great British public for supporting us."

There is another reason why the 44-year-old Brailsford, once a journeyman pro road racer who has degrees in sports science, psychology and business, is staying put. His plans for a British team in the Tour de France from 2010 are progressing well. He aims to produce an overall winner within five years, and it is no surprise that with his track record nobody in the sport thinks the prospect fanciful.

"Getting a British rider to win the Tour de France is the holy grail of cycling and certainly one of the last great challenges left for British sport, our Everest," he says. "I am confident we can have a team on the road by 2010. It's a big job and some might say, 'Oh, a Brit will never win it'. But that's not the thinking that's got us here now.

"For a long time the idea of winning, of elitism being acceptable, was not something that sat happily with the British psyche. Now it's cool to say, 'I want to be the best'."

Comments