No rest for Brailsford as GB head aims for perfect 10 in Rio
Stunning home success in the Velodrome inspires cycling guru to win everything in 2016
Even before the Olympic Games in London have been completed, the British Cycling performance director, Dave Brailsford, has goals for Rio 2016 on his mind. Odd as this may sound, it actually makes perfect sense.
Having already re-scaled track cycling's result equivalent of Mount Everest and equalled Beijing's staggering total of eight gold medals across all cycling disciplines – and the mountain bike and BMX events this week may yet increase that total further – Brailsford's aim is for British Cycling to be even more successful, at least on the track, in four years' time.
"Is it possible? Of course it is, our job is to believe it's possible to do even better," Brailsford said yesterday. "You've got to go there and think, let's win all 10 [track events]. Whether or not it happens I don't know, but it's what we've got to aim for."
He compared such an ambitious goal to how he and Britain's Team Sky – where he is also top director – tackled their historic triumph at the Tour de France this summer with Bradley Wiggins, the first ever British victory in cycling's blue riband road race.
"When we started off we thought, what shall we shoot at? We'll shoot for the Tour de France with a clean rider within five years, and if we don't hit it, we're still building something that's pretty high, because we're going for the very biggest thing."
Team GB have taken seven out of 10 track golds in London, plus a silver and a bronze, and have had a chance to medal in every event – something that Brailsford said he believed, before the Games, was always on the cards. But achieving it was another story.
"If you go on the last two Olympic Games we've won 26 medals, seven golds in Beijing and seven golds here from 20 [track] events," he said. "It's the highest conversion rate in the Games. You won't get a higher one."
Fittingly for such a mathematical approach, Brailsford revealed he even had a spreadsheet on his phone, and as he watched training sessions he would update his estimations of how successful he thought each contender would be. Significantly, given they ran Team GB the closest, he did the same for one other country, Australia.
How many track titles did he think were possible before the Games? "You really don't know. The [gold medal-winning] women's team pursuit has been the best team for two years now and they are such a well-disciplined group, that was their medal to lose.
"In the mens' team pursuit [also gold] I felt confident we were on the up and the Aussies were on the down. And in the keirin I thought by taking [Sir] Chris [Hoy] out of the individual sprint [Jason Kenny won gold] it would give him a freshness that would be an advantage over some of the riders who'd done both. [Shane] Perkins [of Australia], for example, was tiring."
Brailsford was scathing of attempts by rivals such as France and Germany to use loopholes in the regulations – such as that which allows riders from non-track events to race in the Velodrome – to try to gain an advantage.
He cited the case of French track rider Mickaël Bourgain taking part in the road race, which he abandoned after three kilometres, so the French would have an extra man in the Velodrome events. Bourgain finished sixth in the keirin, which Brailsford called "a just reward". As for the sprinter Robert Förstemann, selected for Germany in the mountain bike event on Sunday as his back-door path to the Velodrome, Brailsford said with a big grin: "I wish him luck on the downhill sections."
Overall, Brailsford said he believed the other teams had been "lulled into a false sense of security. I think they all thought they were going to do a lot better than they did". That was partly Britain's fault "because we haven't lit it up for four years. It's not as if we were doing what we did in Palma [in 2007] pre-Beijing." Britain swept the field in the world championships there, Brailsford first announcing his intention to "win everything". "We weren't dominating at the worlds like we have done previously. I think this time around it's been totally different."
There were times when he was not at all certain if his riders had lifted their foot off the accelerator too far as their rivals forged ahead prior to the Games. "It's great now, sitting here having done well after the Olympics, but I can assure you there's been some track meetings in various parts of the world, most of them grim, where it's been absolutely excruciating to stand in the middle of that track and watch other teams basically win and perform better than we have. They felt very, very competitive."
Brailsford revealed he would go into the Manchester velodrome at seven in the morning last winter, day after day the first person in there, to watch training sessions and ensure the track team had, as it were, touched bottom and were on the way back up.
His right-hand man Shane Sutton, meanwhile, took the drastic step of taking the sprinters en masse to the remote city of Perth, Australia, where there would be no distractions.
"November last year, around the European Championships, that was a worrying time. That is the time in an Olympic cycle when you need to start pulling the lever back and it all starts to take off. This really, really worried me, that we'd got our timing wrong. That was very, very concerning.
"You sit there with your head in your hands and you say we're gonna work this out here. And you stay behind at night having incessant telephone calls, non-stop, 24/7 with Shane about... What about this? What about that gear... You go through it over and over again. And that's the level of intensity. That's how we work, that's what we do."
The mix of bootcamps and back-to-basics worked. "You ask Jason Kenny what phase really made a difference, and he'll refer back to that, that's where he did the hard yards. At some points everybody needs to be pushed."
If London's World Cup in Stratford this February was a good step back in the right direction, the world championships in Melbourne was where the squad began to gain the momentum they so clearly needed.
"It was the most important part of this [Olympic] cycle. Our first instinct was to go there with a skeleton team. But then we figured that if we really wanted to deliver here, then if we could deliver a real body blow in Melbourne we could build on that here and get some real confidence. And that was what set us up.
"The margins in Melbourne were so fine. The team pursuit win was by a hundredth of a second when we were dying and they [Australia] were coming back at us and we pipped it. The boost that gave us was incredible.
"Credit to the coaches, our periodisation is better than anyone else's. We know how to peak, and when I look round at other nations, I am not sure how many could say that as a team."
And so on to 2016. But those beacon-like results from London are there for everybody to see and will surely act as an inspiration for Team GB's cyclists not just for the next four years but for generations to come. It's a fair bet that Brailsford has already started punching in medal estimates on that spreadsheet on his mobile for Rio, too.
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