Dave Brailsford: Cycling coach reveals secrets to GB's success

The man behind phenomenal home team tells Tom Peck how the cyclists have set about collecting their medals

Tom Peck
Friday 03 August 2012 21:38
Dave Brailsford says London has presented new challenges
Dave Brailsford says London has presented new challenges

It did not take long for the green verge that slopes down from the Velodrome towards the vast screen perched on stilts in the River Lee to be christened Hoy Hill. He is the brightest star, though not by much, in Britain's extraordinary cycling firmament. But those in the know might prefer a different alliteration, one that acknowledges the man who really is the driving force behind the country's two-wheeled superstars – the Brailsford Bank.

Dave Brailsford arrived on British Cycling's coaching scene when the Lottery money did – just after the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Things have been going rather well since, of course – 14 medals in Beijing, eight of them gold, who knows how many here, and of course the first ever British winner of the Tour de France. That so many cyclists are now household names is indicative of the nation's expectations. Brailsford sees it differently.

"We work out what we think is the best possible time that we can achieve, and if we get that, and then someone comes along and is four seconds quicker, we have to accept that we just didn't have the riders to do that.

"If you look at your own performance and think, 'Am I happy with that? Is that the best ride I could have done?' And the answer's yes, then you can look at everybody else and see if they went faster. That's how I look at it."

Many have been quick to point out that the Team GB cyclists are not necessarily the powerhouse they were in Beijing. They have spent the four years since then battling with the Germans and the Australians for supremacy. In Thursday's men's team sprint, the bookies had Great Britain down as likely to get bronze. But they won gold, smashed the world record and, if it ever actually went away, the expectation is back.

"There comes a certain point of time where the result is expected, rather than it be exciting," says Brailsford. "Chris [Hoy] going into Athens for his first gold medal was amazing. Then we had Beijing, where he performed like he did. Now people saying, 'Oh, yeah, it's Chris Hoy, he'll win.' It's a very different environment for him than when he first won in Athens."

With success has come fame for the team's members. It has, he says, affected them in different ways, but they're ready for it. "Some of them shy away from the glitz and the glamour, others absolutely revel in it, but I don't think it impacts performance."

Despite the cycling boom, he acknowledges it is a sport still tainted by doping questions. "It is an issue for me, I do think about it. We went into Beijing wanting to show everybody that you could go into a sport and use science, technology, and good coaching and really improve performance. When we started to win prolifically in Beijing, and before that, the Italian Federation for Cycling said, 'the British track team cheated for sure.' And we weren't.

"But you've got to be a realist. It is a problem, the sport has got this reputation based on what's happened in the past, but you've got to stick to your guns and show that you can do it clean, and give everybody hope and belief that if you do things cleverly, if you do things with a brain, and you get behind athletes and support them you can achieve fantastic results."

A home games too, has presented new challenges. "It's a first for all of us," he says. "In Beijing, I think I went 13 different times to figure out how we were going to operate in this challenging environment, whereas here you just jump on a train and go down to London.

"The one thing that is really interesting. The friends and family aspect has been way more of an issue for us. A positive one, but way more of a challenge than ever before. They're always ringing and asking 'What shall we do? When's the event time? When shall I go down? We've had to get someone on board full time just to deal with friends and family."

When London won the bid to host the Games the government claimed it would lead to a million more people playing sport recreationally. The target has since been dropped, but if we get even close to it, cycling will have played a significant part.

"When I started cycling, 25 years ago, people looked at me, when I rode through Wales, as if to say, 'What on earth are you up to?'" says Brailsford. "Now, local Welsh people, from Carnarvon and Llanberis, come up to me with an awareness and an excitement. 'Are we going to do well in the Olympics? Can we win as many golds as we did before?'

"The number of people who talk to me, knowledgeably, about the sport at the highest level has increased just massively, and the more people you get doing it, statistically the more people you will find with the ability to be an Olympic performer."

So if you think one of them might be you, what exactly is Brailsford looking for? "You have to work out, is this athlete intrinsically driven? Is there that burning desire inside them, to continue to compete, to continue to improve, to continue to go through all the pain and the hard work, the nutrition, the lifestyle, the sacrifices you have to make. If you look at all the great champions … it's not to do with anyone outside, it's what's inside them, they're special in that respect. And if you haven't got that, it doesn't matter how much talent you've got, you're never going to get sustained success."

Olden returns: Brailsford's wins

Athens 2004 4 medals

Two golds, one silver, one bronze. Golds are Chris Hoy in the 1km time trial, and Bradley Wiggins in the individual pursuit.

Beijing 2008 14 medals

Stunning performances from the cyclists yield eight golds.

2011 World Championship

Mark Cavendish becomes first British road-race winner since 1965.

2012 Tour de France

Under Brailsford at Team Sky, Wiggins becomes first ever Briton to win the Tour.

London 2012 6 medals

Six medals won so far in ruthless displays at the Velodrome.

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