It was over a cup of coffee in a quiet café in Limoges on the day before Bastille Day last year, that Dave Brailsford sat down to try to convince Bradley Wiggins to become the poster boy for the biggest, brashest project British, and quite possibly world, cycling has ever seen. Five minutes later Wiggins was convinced.
Yesterday Team Sky was launched with a slick flourish in London. Millbank Tower, rising over the Houses of Parliament on the north bank of the Thames, offers striking views over the capital's landmarks, an appropriate venue for the birth of a project that has the bold aim of planting a Briton on top of the podium in Paris come the end of the 2014 Tour de France. Each of the 26 expensively assembled riders from 12 countries – eight of them Britons – pedalled on to the stage yesterday afternoon; lean, wiry young men dressed in the black and blue of the new team, with a thin blue line down the back of their shirts. This is what it is all about, was the message hammered home, the thin line between success and failure.
At its heart is Brailsford, the mastermind behind Britain's medal-laden success at the last two Olympic Games, a man noted for his meticulous attention to detail, the little things that make the difference to getting across that line first. But he knew, for all his insistence yesterday that the team was about more than Wiggins, that without the stellar name the little things might count for nothing.
"This is a British team going out there to represent Britain," said Brailsford. "Getting Bradley is a great achievement. This is where he belongs. We've worked with him for three Olympic cycles – there's a strong bond. With his profile, he's a natural fit."
The birth of this new team has been greeted with a degree of astonishment across the established centres of Pro Team racing in Europe. Its annual budget, following a reported start-up cost of £35m, is believed to be around £10m a year, around one and a half times larger than most of the teams from "old Europe", as the man from L'Equipe put it.
"Dave came out [to the Tour] and we had a coffee," said Wiggins yesterday, "after five minutes I said, right I was on board and that was that."
The 29-year-old has three Olympic gold medals to his name and was a key figure in the team Brailsford built that shone so brightly first in Athens and then in Beijing two years ago. The plan is to translate that national success from the track on to the roads of Europe, and particularly France, with the support of many of the ideas, infrastructure and staff that lay behind Britain's successes.
Amid the slick presentation, and the much talked about team bus that is apparently already the envy of the peloton, there was an initial caginess yesterday when it came to actual predictions. Plenty of talk of potential and creating "rider-centric" environments, but statements of intent were thin on the ground. Then Sean Yates, once a wearer of the yellow jersey, now one of the team's sporting directors, let it slip. "Winning the Tour this year?... it's a big call," said Yates. "It is very open and it could roll our way. If Bradley performs like he did last year... we're right on track."
The team today heads for Valencia and a training camp, before making its bow in the Tour Down Under later this month. But it kept coming back to the Tour and Wiggins, the man who finished a stunning fourth in the race last year. Riding for Garmin that was, to a degree, almost by accident rather than design. This time around nothing will be left to chance.
Over the last few weeks one of the 37 members of the support team has been assiduously exploring the mountains around Wiggins's base in Spain seeking contours to match the climbs – or "shit fights" as he called them yesterday – he will face in this year's Tour. "This is more organised than a lot of Premier League teams," said Wiggins. "I'm used to it after 10 years with the [British] track squad, but a lot of the other guys are blown away by it all – the attention to detail, the little things.
"It is easy to sit here and say this is the best team in the world. I'm going to say that because I'm paid to, but so far everything looks good. If I'm ever going to win the Tour it is going to be with this team. No stone will be left unturned."
It is, according to Nicolas Portal, one of two Frenchman in the team, "un projet extraordinaire". Little wonder it is attracting the envious admiration of "old Europe". But for all its resources and financial clout – in Edvald Boasson-Hagen they have signed a future cycling superstar – the success or failure of Brailsford's latest masterplan will come down to one race.
"It is the only race that matters," said Wiggins. "We could win 100 races elsewhere but the Tour is all. That's the gold."
Beyond Wiggins: Team Sky's rising stars
Team Sky have signed up some of the best young British and world talent:
*Edvald Boasson-Hagen The 22-year-old Norwegian is "the most talented rider in the peloton" according to Wiggins. A true star in the making.
*Peter Kennaugh The 20-year-old Manxman is Britain's next big thing.
*Ben Swift Made his pro debut last year. The 22-year-old Briton only signed for the team yesterday.Reuse content