Dave Brailsford: “Control the controllable”
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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Dave Brailsford: “Control the controllable”

by Ben Atkins at 7:17 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France
 

Team Sky Principal Dave Brailsford brings more than ten years of experience to the helm of Great Britain’s highly successful national team. At the team’s presentation in London this week he spoke with the press about his firm belief that the principles that brought an incredible 14 medals – 8 of them gold – at the Beijing Olympics can be applied to cycling in the professional peloton.

“From the Olympic perspective, we don’t set medal targets,” he said. “What we do on a broad basis is work with our fantastic lottery funding partners at UK Sport – we talk about medal targets, but actually if you start setting yourself targets which are outside your control, all that does is engender stress. It’s outside your control; you start worrying about “Can I do it?” “Can’t I do it?” Why worry about it, worry about what you can do.”

“So we’re very clear,” he continued, “in that we differentiate between dreams – winning gold medal dreams, we all want them and will be desperately disappointed if it doesn’t happen, but they are dreams, and it’s not within our control necessarily – and specific targets that you can control. You can work towards a power to weight ratio, you can control your aerodynamics, you can control your team tactics, you can control your nutrition and you can etc etc. if you set about trying to control all of that then it’s within your grasp and its quite motivating. You know that people will get right behind it.”

“Whether it delivers your ultimate dream or not, you’ll have to wait and see.”

Olympic preparations for the Tour

Despite the majority of the Beijing medals being in events such as the pursuit (both team and individual) where the fastest rider generally comes out on top, Brailsford insists that the same intricate preparation can be just as valuable in the less predictable arena of racing on the road.

“I think it’s fair to say that in time trial results that’s pretty straight forward,” he agreed, “but I think certainly in bunch races – the Madison and all those kind of races – it’s not about, necessarily, the numbers. You still sometimes find – or, you often find – that the strongest guy doesn’t win; which is the case in road racing, of course. There’s more variables if you like, but even then you can still only control what you can control.”

Despite a rider’s physical condition being just one element involved in achieving success, Brailsford insists that it is a vital element.

“I would argue that if somebody has “the numbers”…” he said, “You’re not going to find anybody wins the Tour de France who doesn’t have the numbers, put it that way. So, you’re not saying that a guy with the numbers is going to win it, but you don’t get somebody who’s going to win it without the numbers. There is an element of measurability, of quantifiability [sic] about it.”

Wiggins has “the numbers” for the Tour

Specifically, Sky’s team captain at the Tour de France will have as much support as the team can provide so he can arrive at the start line in Rotterdam on July 3rd in the best possible condition; a condition that Brailsford maintains is up there with the best in the World.

“I think Brad’s numbers are already pretty high,” he insisted, “let’s put it that way. I think our job is to create the right environment for him to be able to achieve the best that Bradley Wiggins can be.”

“Have we seen the best of Bradley Wiggins yet? I like to think not,” he smiled. “But who knows, time will tell, all we can do is support him and work towards it; and that’s what we’ll be thinking about all day every day.”

Spreading the message, inspiring new cyclists

Part of the raison d’être of Team Sky is something it shares with British Cycling: to inspire more people to get out on bikes at all levels. The ProTour team and the media exposure of the biggest professional races offers Brailsford a more regular opportunity to showcase the sport to a British public that isn’t used to seeing cycling in the mainstream media.

“I think Team Sky is here very much to inspire participation in the sport and to grow the sport,” he said, “and so there’s an element to that. From our experience in the Olympic [four-year] cycle, mid-cycle in the Olympics the normal media presence, if you like, that falls on the track team is somewhat limited.

“Obviously, the Olympics is the opportunity every four years for us to excel or not and have a media platform; and we achieved that last time round, which has elevated us to a slightly different standpoint now. I think within pro-cycling, and a World iconic event like the Tour de France, which happens on an annual basis rather than every four years, it does give you the opportunity to have a media platform that is greater than what we would have experienced in the track team before.”

“So what do we want to do with that?” he asked. “Do we want to just focus on one team, or do we want to try and do something that will get more kids on bikes? That’s one element of the strategy.”

As well as the expected performance at the Tour de France – particularly from Wiggins –  Team Sky’s roster of classics specialists like Juan Antonio Flecha have the potential to expose the British public to more areas of the sport; something Brailsford hope can happen.

“I’d like to think that through Team Sky,” he said, “the British public – who might not know the sport, and some of the other classic races in the sport – do become aware of it, get exposed to it and start to understand about the intricacies of the sport a little bit more; and again that would be a massive achievement for us.

“I’m very passionate about the sport and anything I can do to increase it’s popularity – to take it out there and get more people understanding of it – the better as far as I’m concerned. So I hope that does happen.”

British passport not required

Despite being a British team – with a British sponsor – just 8 of the team’s 26 riders are British; less than one third. Although there is an overriding desire to grow the sport in the UK, this does not give British riders an easy ride into the team, Brailsford insists.

“I think it’s a difficult one to judge,” he said. “The one thing that we’ve always said is that you wouldn’t get in this team just by your passport. It’s not by virtue of having been in the British Cycling Academy, being in Quarata and having a British passport you’re automatically going to get a place here. I think those young riders coming up have to earn their place.”

Just as with the Great Britain team, riders will have to be of the required standard, he insists.

“It’s a bit like the track squad,” Brailsford continued, “you have to be good enough to get into that top group in the track squad, and that’s stood us in very good stead. That whole “medal or nothing” attitude and mentality that we took on board was quite tough to start with, but actually it became self-policing in the end because the guys set their own standard. They’re pushing each other on all the time.

“If British riders get to a level that there are enough good British riders that are the right calibre then fantastic, that would be a great scenario for us to find ourselves in. But they’d have to be good enough in the first instance.” 

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