British Cycling's aim of having a British team in the Tour de France today took a mammoth step forward with the announcement of the formation of Team Sky. The new professional team will be headed up by British Cycling Performance Director Dave Brailsford, who will also continue in his role as Performance Director for Team GB. The team will be funded though by BskyB.
Announcing the team BskyB said it had the following aims:
Create the first British winner of the Tour de France, within five years (just a few months back British Cycling's President Brian Cookson said he thought that might take 10 years – BskyB and Brailsford obviously want to get a move on.)
Inspire people of all ages and abilities to get on their bikes, through the team’s positive profile, attitude and success.
Add further support to competitive cycling in Great Britain.
Team Sky will have a core of British riders, coaches and support staff and its HQ will be in Manchester, although it will also have a continental base too. It will compete from the start of 2010, throughout the calendar, with the objective of gaining an invitation to the Tour de France. The race schedule will include the Tour of Britain, a chance to showcase the team on home ground.
An initial squad of around 25 riders will be recruited during 2009 . The plan is to have a core of British riders but Brailsford has already said that other nationalities will be involved both as support staff and riding for the team. Simply put, the people setting up the team know that right now Britain doesn't have enough riders and support staff with the necessary experience at the top level for the team to be competitive from the start without employing foreign talent.
Sky insiders insist the intention is to develop British riders and British backroom and specialist staff.
Team Sky will now start to recruit key personnel (it will be interesting to see how many of Brailsford's inner core of coaches at Team GB will play a part in Team Sky, we would expect to see Chris Boardman involved on the technical side of things).
All eyes will also now turn to the British riders currently in the pro peloton. As of yesterday both Brailsford and Sky were keeping tight lipped on who their targets are, refusing to name names and pointing out that those names suggested were already under contract.
Most attention is likely to focus on Mark Cavendish currently plying his trade with much success for Team Columbia Highroad. Cavendish is already the most successful British Tour rider ever and he's only ridden two Tours. He does though also have an 'interesting' relationship with Team GB, and by extension Dave Brailsford, following what he perceived as a lack of support for his attempt to win the madison gold medal in Beijing after pulling out of the Tour de France when he had a very real prospect of winning the green jersey. Cavendish is also a sprinter – so not a likely prospect as a Tour winner.
The process of looking for other commercial partners also starts now. While Sky are adamant that it is theirs and Brailsford's team they are looking for co-sponsors. Initial funding is coming from Sky's existing budgets for cycling and grassroots sport, but the company is under no illusions about the cost of putting together a project on this scale.
Potential co-sponsors won't have to worry about getting plenty of broadcast coverage though, and given the level of interest around Team GB's exploits at the Olympics any road team managed by Dave Brailsford shouldn't have any problem generating plenty of column inches either.
Dave Brailsford CBE, Team Principal for Team Sky, said: “This has been a dream for some time and now Sky is making it happen. It wouldn’t work without them.
“Team Sky will bring to a professional road team the performance principles that have worked so well with the current GB teams; commitment, meticulous planning, the aggregation of marginal gains and a rider-centred philosophy. We want to make heroes, persuade a generation to pull on Team Sky colours and inspire people to ride. This will be an epic story; building a British team to take on the best in professional cycling, and win.”
Brailsford's comments are backed up by Sky, which is keen to stress this is a long term project which, at it's heart, is about encouraging participation at the grassroots and getting bums on saddles. When we spoke to a Sky official the word used repeatedly was “legacy”.
The Sky Sports London Freewheel in September brought more than 50,000 recreational riders together to ride traffic-free streets in the heart of London.
Sky says it is also working with British Cycling to develop a range of "inspiring events, to make cycling fun, easy and accessible to all", which will be announced in the spring.
Sky and Brailsford are also very clear that the new team and set up will in no way detract from the efforts of Team GB to win more medals at the 2012 games. Although Brailsford now works for both Team Sky and British Cycling – his role is essentially strategic: coming up with a plan, and a philosophy and then building a team to implement them.
According to Brailsford: “Team Sky will only enhance British prospects, with riders, and especially up-and-coming talent, benefiting from a pro team set-up that gives them the best training and support in an environment that will help them to develop. The team is a natural evolution for the Olympic programme as the quantity and calibre of British riders continues to grow.”
Whether we'll see a Brit in yellow on the Champs Elysée in five years time is up for debate – there are an awful lot more variables to deal with in road cycling than on the track – but what we can be sure of is that a man as meticulous and ambitious as Brailsford wouldn't say it if he didn't believe it and Sky certainly has the commercial boldness to make things happen.
Whatever the future brings we are all in for one hell of an adventure.
Plucked from the obscurity of his London commute back in the mid-Nineties to live in Bath and edit bike mags our man made the jump to the interweb back in 2006 as launch editor of a large cycling website somewhat confusingly named after a piece of navigational equipment. He came up with the idea for road.cc mainly to avoid being told what to do… Oh dear, issues there then. Tony tries to ride his bike every day and if he doesn't he gets grumpy, he likes carbon, but owns steel, and wants titanium. When not on his bike or eating cake Tony spends his time looking for new ways to annoy the road.cc team. He's remarkably good at it.