Cycling: 'Our dream is to see a Briton win the yellow jersey'

He masterminded Team GB's amazing cycling success in Beijing, but for his next trick Dave Brailsford is plotting to deliver a first ever Tour de France success for Britain, writes Alasdair Fotheringham
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The Independent Online

When the lights dim tomorrow morning at the huge Palais de Congres in central Paris and the route for the 2010 Tour de France is revealed, one person will be watching more keenly than most. Given that he plans to win the tour, that is perhaps not surprising, and given he is British cycling's Dave Brailsford, who led his team to such success in the Olympics last year, you wouldn't bet against him.

The winner of the 2008 BBC Sports Coach of the Year award, Brailsford played a central role in the eight golds, six silvers and two bronzes the Olympic cycling team amassed in Beijing. For now, though, preparations for the 2012 Olympics are taking a back seat as the the 45-year-old focuses on a British yellow jersey by 2014 at the latest.

Brailsford's presence at the Tour 2010 launch is as "team principal" for Team Sky, which will start racing in January with the aim of producing GB's first ever Tour de France winner. "Victory in the Tour is our dream. It's the mission," Brailsford says. Speaking on the final day of the world championships in the small Swiss town of Mendrisio, Brailsford's eyes sparkle at the thought of the challenge ahead. He could be excused for being downbeat after the team's poor performance but it doesn't seem his style as he chats animatedly.

Brailsford feels Team Sky must get the small details right in order to succeed. "In these first 12 months," he says, "the biggest thing we can do to make performance work is to get the simple things to happen, make less errors than other people. It'll be about the pure mechanics of it all, the logistics. Let's not do the fancy stuff or anything smart, let's just do the simple stuff well."

His plan is to apply the same techniques on the road that produced such levels of Olympic success. "There are parallels: you've got to do all the little things that make a difference, go there with a no-compromise approach to performance," he says. "And that requires a team of people who are willing to go that extra mile. People who won't get upset if they're a mechanic, say, and they get told a tyre's not stuck on correctly. Rather than responding 'that's not your job' they actually go, 'bloody hell, you're right, thanks mate.' They're appreciative of it."

Just as with the Great Britain track program, Brailsford says his job will be to allow his staff as much autonomy as possible. As he put it, "it's my job to act as conductor, not to play the instruments. If people feel free to talk because they have ownership in their areas, you get greater ideas," he adds. "It's when there's a culture of fear people don't talk. Instead you get the dominant guys doing their job and a bit of your job too. That pisses people off and you end up with the normal team dynamics, spending more time trying to organise the staff than you do the riders."

There's been no shortage of armchair critics keen to point out track racing is a far more controlled environment than road-racing, but as Brailsford said, "it's still about bikes. You still have to get somebody in the right condition on the right day and in the best shape of their life. If these guys want to be in the best shape, there's a science behind that, that's one part that's under your control."

Historically a sport with a much greater following on the other side of the English Channel, Brailsford argues that teams and riders from English-speaking countries are having an increasingly high impact on road-racing. Lance Armstrong is one example, Britain's Mark Cavendish another and Sky is part of that process. "The new wave is maybe not so grounded in conventional wisdom," he said. "Some countries have been doing it for years and saying 'this is how it works' and the guys who are new to it – America, ourselves, Norway – are saying 'how do we fit in? We're looking for ways of fitting in'.

"Norway wouldn't stand out as one of the great cycling nations, but they're getting there. And the Americans have always brought innovations to sport. All these nations are very much into their sports science and that will bring a certain modernisation of what has been a traditional sport."

In terms of who will be wearing the team's colours when Sky start road-racing, there are a number of interesting rumours. There were suggestions Sky wanted to sign double Tour winner Alberto Contador. Given the aim is to have the first Briton to make it to the top step of the podium in Paris, talk of Contador seems far-fetched. The rider who ticks most boxes for Sky's British leader in the Tour de France is Londoner Bradley Wiggins (left), who finished fourth in last year's race. Wiggins, though, is still under contract with his current team, Garmin-Slipstream, until 2010.

Brailsford is cagey on whether negotiations to sign the 29-year-old are even ongoing. He said: "We've got riders we've identified that can contribute to the execution of that plan. But Team Sky isn't about one rider. If that was to involve Bradley, that's great but if it doesn't it's not the end of the world."

Among those already signed is Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen. The homegrown contingent includes the Olympic gold medallist Geraint Thomas and Manxman Pete Kennaugh. They and the team's other 25-odd riders will have a first get-together in late November in Manchester, then a full-on training camp in Valencia, Spain early next year.

"We got someone in to analyse the best weather statistically, and found just south of Valencia was the best in Europe in January," said Brailsford.

Just another of the simple things, then that the team are determined to get right from the start. And given how many gold medals that approach produced in Beijing, Team Sky may already be a long way down the road towards winning Great Britain's first ever yellow jersey in Paris.

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