Sir Dave Brailsford has said that he wants to follow up Team Sky’s achievement in winning the Tour with a British rider by following that up with a victory by one from the race’s home country – saying that it would be “enormous.” He has also outlined a vision of using the race’s Grand Départ as a platform for fighting the nation’s obesity epidemic and improving safety of all cyclists.
When Team Sky was launched in 2010, many scoffed at Brailsford’s ambition of winning the Tour with a British rider within five years. That was achieved two years early through Sir Bradley Wiggins in 2012, with Chris Froome following up that victory by succeeding his team mate in the yellow jersey 12 months ago.
You have to go back almost three decades for the last French rider to win the General Classification – 1985, when Bernard Hinault won his fifth and final title.
Speaking to French daily newspaper L’Equipe, Team Sky principal Brailsford said, “In my head, there’s a little idea…. We’ve won the Tour with a British rider, but when are we going to see a Frenchman win the Tour? That would be just as enormous.”
He was asked: “That’s your next objective? To win the Tour with a French rider?”
He replied: “Yes, I’d love to win [the Tour] with a Frenchman. I think it has to be done. For the Tour, for France, for the French, for the sport, to have a Frenchman win would be enormous.
“I think about it often. France deserves a French winner.”
As to who that French winner might be, Brailsford put forward the name Romain Bardet.
The AG2R rider currently lies second in the young rider’s classification behind Peter Sagan, and wears the white jersey by virtue of the Cannondale man wearing the green jersey of points classification leader.
Aged 23, Bardet finished 15th overall in his first participation in the Tour de France last year. Results this season include 10th at the Liège–Bastogne–Liège one-day Monument, fourth overall at the Volta a Catalunya and fifth overall at last month’s Critérium du Dauphiné.
The French national federation last year opened its new velodrome near Paris, aimed at repeating the approach that has led to Great Britain becoming one of the dominant forces in world cycling.
Meanwhile, with Stage 3 of the race heading from Cambridge to a finish on The Mall in Central London today, the Team Sky principal told the Evening Standard’s Ross Lydall that the “marginal gains” approach that has brought so much success to the UCI WorldTour outfit and Team GB’s cyclists in recent years could help improve the fitness of the nation as a whole.
“Ride your bike to work and back and over time it will make a massive difference,” he said. “If it was just about winning at the elite level and there were no other aspects that came out of it, then I don’t think it would make as much sense.
“Winning is the catalyst,” he went on. “It creates opportunities to do something much bigger, much greater than one sport, in this country.
“We want to continue to draw people into the sport. The number of people has grown so big we need time to think what can we do to help them get better – not just faster but fitter.”
Describing the prospect of today’s stage finish in London as “mouthwatering,” he continued: “If we become a cycling nation, then we now need the cycling culture to fit in with the increased number of cyclists that we have.
“Safety is high on the agenda, but it’s not just about safety. Look at the health benefits. We are experiencing an unfortunate boom in obesity and type-2 diabetes and child obesity. How do we tackle that?
“Essentially it’s pretty simple. We are consuming too many calories and not expending enough. All these complicated diets – the 5/2 and starving yourself for days – is all well and good, but if you eat more than you burn you’re going to get fat.
“Riding to work – all of these little bits of activity to increase our energy expenditure – is a brilliant way to fight this growing time-bomb."
He suggested not trying to be to ambitious, perhaps starting with commuting by bike and building from there.
“People think ‘I don’t want to ride my bike for two or three hours’," he said. "It doesn’t matter. You just have to do a little bit, and often, and it will make a big difference.”.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.