Following the fantastic achievements of Bradley Wiggins and Team Sky at this year’s Tour de France, I’m delighted to present this guest post by my dear friend, Ossie A, a 3 time Tour etapiste, eloquently showcasing some of the incredible work that took place behind the scenes in order to reach this pinnacle:
In 2010 the Team Sky Pro Cycling Team was launched with David Brailsford, Team Principal, pronouncing his ambitions for a Tour de France win within five years from a British rider.
Brailsford loves a challenge, over the course of three years he has set about questioning and analysing every aspect to road racing, a sport long steeped in tradition and lore. He has prodded and poked, occasionally his quest for ‘marginal gains’ has led him to stray into territory deemed off bounds, demarked years back. More often than not however, like his father who is an alpine mountain guide, he has pioneered a path forward.
He installed a screen cutting off the public’s access to his riders before stages, concerned their attentions would distract his riders from the task ahead. There was an outcry, for a sport that is taken to the people, whose stadia are the rolling roads of the Massif Central, the plains of Brittany, the mountain passes of the Alps and the Pyrenees, Brailsford was tampering with the romanticism and ideals of the sport. For a race played out over three weeks, 3,000kms, and that circumnavigates France, he quickly realised that alienating the people would weigh heavily against his dream for success. Brailsford put his hands up and admitted he’d erred, this was another side to him, and by not being afraid to admit his mistakes, he was strengthening his grasp on what it took to win the Tour.
Brailsford brought in a swimming coach, Tim Kerrison, to work with Bradley Wiggins. Kerrison introduced training methods from the pool, these had no association with those from the road. He also introduced the concept of the warmdown on static bikes after races. Where Sky were initially derided for this weird post stage ritual last year, this year you may have noticed several riders seemingly wobbling while being interviewed in the aftermath of this year’s Tour stages. No, your eyes weren’t playing games, these riders had suddenly embraced the warm down.
It was in the approach to preparation for July, however, that Brailsford and Kerrison boldly stepped out, taking on the very long established conventions. Traditionally, riders built towards July, riding themselves into form primed to peak at the Tour. Early season races were used to prepare riders for the summer ahead, both mentally and physically, they were to re-awaken their bodies ahead of the demands to be placed on them. Kerrison shattered such a tradition, instead getting Wiggins to arrive for each of these early season races in close to peak form. Wiggins won Paris-Nice in March and soon after the Tour of Romandy. Coming back to win the precursor to the Tour, the Dauphine Libere in June, the traditionalists circled like vultures: the rookies at Team Sky were out of their depth, no one ever wins such a succession of races and can go on to challenge for the Tour.
The rest is history, Wiggins taking the GC (general classification) in a finale that saw Sky at their most formidable. The last three stages produced a Cavendish-Wiggins-Cavendish hat trick, let us not also forget Sky’s buffer on the GC, with Chris Froome taking second place on the podium.
Team Sky and Brailsford won’t sit still however, 2012’s Tour was merely the appetiser for a team and a man who, in their quest for success will go on challenging, questioning, probing, asking, while at the same time embracing the romanticism and ideals of the sport. When Wiggins was atop the world under the Arc de Triomphe on Sunday, David Brailsford ran to the foot of the podium, and like the millions of fans the Tour had brought itself to in the past three weeks, here was Brailsford, unashamed fan, beside himself with sheer joy and delight.