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9 years ago Team Sky turned up with a fat budget and a fancy bus and started winning, but what have they done for you and me?

As Team Sky is set to draw to a close at the end of the year, we take a moment to ponder what the team has ever done for you. Team Sky’s legacy will be off turning Britain into one of the most successful cycling nations in recent history, being the envy of the cycling world and making marginal gains part of common cycling language.

Cycling became the new golf

Team Sky, along with the success of British Cycling it should be added, has helped to bring cycling to a much wider audience and has inspired a new generation of cyclists.

Cycling is the new golf was a term widely bandied around a few years ago and points to MAMILS obsessed with replicating Wiggo and co with business professionals swapping clubs for pedals. That certainly accounts for a lot of the uptake in cycling.

Tom Pidcock wins 2019 U23 CX World Championship (picture copyright SWPix.com)

But away from that trend, it’s clear that the success is helping to inspire a whole new generation of cyclists whether focused on winning or participation. There is an abundance of talent in the junior ranks and women’s races are surging in numbers, and there are more people commuting, though outside of London cycling as transport has been impacted very little by Team Sky’s success.

The question now is will the end of Team Sky be the beginning of the end of this era of cycling success and popularity or will the legacy survive?

Added "marginal gains" to cycling (and sporting) lexicon

Dave Brailsford might not have come up with the term marginal gains but he has certainly made it a key philosophy of the team’s approach to racing since it first arrived in the peloton.

The idea is simple, it’s the aggregation of marginal gains, examining every aspect of everything required for an athlete to perform at the highest level. For Sky it involved buying the best of everything, using special mattresses and pillows at races, colour-coded water bottles and a strict hand washing policy to prevent the spread of illness.

Smoke and mirrors perhaps, and Wiggo came out and said they were "rubbish" last year, but there’s some sound thinking behind it all and it’s clear the idea has stuck with amateur level cyclists as well as other pro-level outfits that have looked to emulate Team Sky’s success. It has helped to make cycling more professional in every aspect of racing, befit of a team with a colossal budget.

team-sky-service-course-2016-38_0

Not all ideas have been well received. Remember the black screens erected around the team bus during pre-race warm-ups? And the Death Star, the name given to the imposing black team bus. And cooling down after stages even it if means delaying the victory ceremony.

But the underlying concept of aggregating all these small performance gains has been pretty well adopted by every other team in the pro peloton.

And amateur cyclists have benefited too, especially racing cyclists. There’s a plethora of information available, so much more compared to 10-20 years ago, and a greater appreciation for the value of bike fits, coaches, training plans and all the preparation that goes on before and after a race.

Raised the equipment bar

Marginal gains didn't just focus on the riders themselves it also put an emphasis on providing the very best equipment for the riders to race. Sky has famously been incredibly fussy about components choices, preferring to buy preferred products rather than rely on whatever the sponsor provides.

Pinarello Dogma F10 Team Sky 2018 - 1.jpg

They have worked with bike sponsor Pinarello and enlisted the expertise of car company Jaguar to develop the latest iteration of the Dogma F10 race bike to hone the aerodynamics and all-round performance. It has developed helmets with Kask and worked with Muc-Off to develop specific lubes, all in that quest for marginal gains.

Muc-Off launch C4 Wax chain lube developed with Team Sky + video

Sky has made power meters a key training and racing product (there are now calls by none other than Tour de France organiser Christian Prudhomme to ban them) they also developed custom 3D printed aero handlebars for its time trial bikes.

- 12 ways Team Sky develops those marginal gains

Made Britain a cycling nation in the eyes of the world

Not that they necessarily made us a nation of cyclists but they made us a nation synonymous with success in the sport of cycling in a way we never were before. Yes, Great Britain has a long and proud cycling history - we did invent the modern bicycle after all - but when it came to winning cycling's big prizes we weren't a player.

Prior to 2010, we had no history of achievements like the French, the Italian, or the Belgians. Now the achievements of British riders in a British team have become part of cycling's history. We've got moments to inspire us in the way other nations have had. Before Sky our achievements in the biggest races amounted to a few stage wins the odd 'day in yellow' and a Tour King of the Mountains jersey (and yes, Chris Froome won that too in 2015 along with the yellow jersey).

While cycling in the 20th century might have belonged to the French, Belgians and Italians there's a fair argument for saying that 21st century cycling has belonged to GB. And that's thanks to Team Sky.

 

 

Made it okay to wear pro team kit

Okay, contentious one this I know, but Team Sky made it okay to wear pro team kit if you’re not a sponsored pro rider.

team sky jersey action

There are a lot of strange written and unwritten rules in cycling, and one here in the UK is that it’s not cool for amateur cyclists to wear pro team kit if they’re not sponsored by said team (the opposite is true over on the continent). In certain parts of the country it’s not uncommon to see a fair few cyclists proudly cycling around the lanes in a black Team Sky jersey, and is that really such a bad thing surely it's just the cycling equivalent of football fans walking around in their favourite team's kit?

First British Tour de France winner

Growing up watching Armstrong and Ullrich slog it out every summer I never imagined I'd one day be watching a British Tour de France winner.

Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome on Tour de France podium (via YouTube)

Team Sky launched in 2010 with the lofty aiming of delivering the first British winner of the Tour de France. Many people scoffed at the ambitious target, but smiles were wiped off those faces a few years later when Bradley Wiggins went down in history as the first Brit to win the French stage race.

And to prove it wasn’t a fluke, Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas have added the Union Flag to the roster of winners another five times.

It’s not all rosy, there’s a lot of baggage…

For a team that set out with the bold pledge towards anti-doping and to race clean, to close out its tenure mired in doping allegations, from TUE leaks, salbutamol investigation and the ongoing Richard Freeman jiffy bag saga… and it’s currently pursuing a new sponsor to replace Sky at the end of 2019.

David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.

16 comments

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Chris Hayes [415 posts] 2 months ago
7 likes

Three different Grand Tour winners in 5 years is pretty incredible - as is the fact that they have won them all.  Is that not unprecedented?

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mylesrants [462 posts] 2 months ago
3 likes

super stuff. loads of money invested in our sport. a friend is a swanny for them and it feeds his kids and gives me someone to cheer for. whats not to like

 

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Drinfinity [182 posts] 2 months ago
3 likes

Funded grassroots sport that got me and the girls into racing 

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maviczap [329 posts] 2 months ago
4 likes

Bought a whole load of non cyclists into watching the sport, with more and more coverage on the TV and on the side of the roads.

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Softpedlar [1 post] 2 months ago
0 likes

I think we may have forgotten Mark Cavendish did get better with HTC before Sky started winning. Not to mention whilst at Sky he did worse. His success is probably like Froomes but as a sprinter. It may also be belittling Graham Obree and Boardman's hour records. Also the likes of Robert Miller paved the way for modern English speaking teams in the grand tours.

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dooderooni [22 posts] 2 months ago
2 likes

They've undoubtedly furthered the sport in the uk from a participation and awareness aspect and hopefully that'll translate to better relationships with other road users in the future. Anyone who's spent time in Europe will know how far behind the UK is in terms of infrastructure that helps both cyclists and drivers co-exist. Sky's legacy will, fingers crossed, mean that we'll approach transport planning with a much broader consideration of all road users.

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warrenpoole [1 post] 2 months ago
0 likes

Sky/Froome won the TDF KOM Jersey in 2015

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Bill H [91 posts] 2 months ago
2 likes

Has anyone met a commuter inspired by a pro cyclist? A shopper loading panniers outside Tesco's wearing a KoM jersey?

I have met skint commuters saving money, folk getting fit during their commute, even club cyclists getting in some junk miles Monday to Friday, but I have never been told by someone that any pro inspired them to throw a leg over a top tube. Maybe I have led a sheltered life?

Sky has been wonderful for headlines and great for athletes but it has not made the wider impact asserted by this article.

Fingers crossed the team finds a new sponsor but let's not get carried away.

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BehindTheBikesheds [3061 posts] 2 months ago
0 likes
Bill H wrote:

Has anyone met a commuter inspired by a pro cyclist? A shopper loading panniers outside Tesco's wearing a KoM jersey?

I have met skint commuters saving money, folk getting fit during their commute, even club cyclists getting in some junk miles Monday to Friday, but I have never been told by someone that any pro inspired them to throw a leg over a top tube. Maybe I have led a sheltered life?

Sky has been wonderful for headlines and great for athletes but it has not made the wider impact asserted by this article.

Fingers crossed the team finds a new sponsor but let's not get carried away.

All this.

Despite SKY and the success in the Olympics etc, modal share of everyday cycling has remained static and cycling trips has gone nowhere in 10 years, yes a few more miles on average but this indicates that those who have stuck it are doing more miles.

Clearly as many people are jacking it in as are starting and with an increase in population that's not static, that's going backwards and all with an increased rate of cycle KSIs since the mid 00s and we know what happened at that juncture re certain cycling attire!

 

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peted76 [1383 posts] 2 months ago
3 likes
BehindTheBikesheds wrote:
Bill H wrote:

Has anyone met a commuter inspired by a pro cyclist? A shopper loading panniers outside Tesco's wearing a KoM jersey?

I have met skint commuters saving money, folk getting fit during their commute, even club cyclists getting in some junk miles Monday to Friday, but I have never been told by someone that any pro inspired them to throw a leg over a top tube. Maybe I have led a sheltered life?

Sky has been wonderful for headlines and great for athletes but it has not made the wider impact asserted by this article.

Fingers crossed the team finds a new sponsor but let's not get carried away.

All this.

Despite SKY and the success in the Olympics etc, modal share of everyday cycling has remained static and cycling trips has gone nowhere in 10 years, yes a few more miles on average but this indicates that those who have stuck it are doing more miles.

Clearly as many people are jacking it in as are starting and with an increase in population that's not static, that's going backwards and all with an increased rate of cycle KSIs since the mid 00s and we know what happened at that juncture re certain cycling attire!

You're picking a choosing stats to suit your viewpoint. The fact of the matter is that cycling in the UK has boomed since 2012, Team GB with Sky funding and Team Sky's winning ways. 

We might not all be commuters and that might not fit your view of what being a cyclist is, but recreationally there's no denying the increase. Do the 'new club members I speak to watch pro-cycling' no, most of them do not but that doesn't mean that team sky has not influenced them in some way, be that a mate who's influenced them to get on a bike or the annual sky installer vans driving around with cycling plastered all over them to the BC Go-Ride events encouraging families to get on their bikes for a mass participation few miles around a city center.. all of which has been pushed with sky money.

 

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alansmurphy [2158 posts] 2 months ago
3 likes

I'm a commuter inspired by Team Sky.

 

I don't drive, never have done. I have used my bike to do a mile or two either side of the train station, perhas 6-8 miles to a pub. The cycling boom, the bug, the fact that it could replace contact sport (which was killing me) inspired me to travel further and faster. After building up to around 3k miles a year, I deliberately moved further away from work into a more rural location and commute in. So yes, meet... me!

 

Bill H, I think it has made the wider leap, in fact:

 

"Made Britain a cycling nation in the eyes of the world" think of the depart from Yorkshire, now the TdY and I believe it was the first to offer equal prize money to ladies and will now host World Championships. The tourist industry up there has boomed massively from cycling and ToB has gone mad in attracting fans, host towns etc. At Mansfield last year the Team Sky bus stayed way beyond any other teams and big Dave, Gee and Froomey all wowed the crowd!

 

This has also had a knock on affect into bike shops and people talking about bikes, kit and cycling. There maybe a MAMIL element to it but we find lots of people out in the village tea (or pub) stops are interested how far we've come, whether we've took the infamous local climb and they'll share stories of "doing it on a 3 gear shopper as a kid" or knowing someone who knew such and such...

 

If you're not seeing some of the positives that have come via BC, Sky, the Olympics, lottery funding, Boardman, Brad et al. then maybe you're riding with your eyes shut!

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brooksby [4346 posts] 2 months ago
1 like

Is that apart from sanitation, the medicine, education, interesting uses for jiffy bags, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system, and public health...?

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shutuplegz [80 posts] 2 months ago
2 likes
alansmurphy wrote:

I'm a commuter inspired by Team Sky.

 

I don't drive, never have done. I have used my bike to do a mile or two either side of the train station, perhas 6-8 miles to a pub. The cycling boom, the bug, the fact that it could replace contact sport (which was killing me) inspired me to travel further and faster. After building up to around 3k miles a year, I deliberately moved further away from work into a more rural location and commute in. So yes, meet... me!

 

Bill H, I think it has made the wider leap, in fact:

 

"Made Britain a cycling nation in the eyes of the world" think of the depart from Yorkshire, now the TdY and I believe it was the first to offer equal prize money to ladies and will now host World Championships. The tourist industry up there has boomed massively from cycling and ToB has gone mad in attracting fans, host towns etc. At Mansfield last year the Team Sky bus stayed way beyond any other teams and big Dave, Gee and Froomey all wowed the crowd!

 

This has also had a knock on affect into bike shops and people talking about bikes, kit and cycling. There maybe a MAMIL element to it but we find lots of people out in the village tea (or pub) stops are interested how far we've come, whether we've took the infamous local climb and they'll share stories of "doing it on a 3 gear shopper as a kid" or knowing someone who knew such and such...

 

If you're not seeing some of the positives that have come via BC, Sky, the Olympics, lottery funding, Boardman, Brad et al. then maybe you're riding with your eyes shut!

 

This ^

 

To Bill H's comment, whilst there might not be that many commuters who have swung a leg over a bike to get to work purely because they are inspired by Team Sky or any pro cyclist or pro team for that matter, it is just the gradual increase in the public profile of cycling as a sport and leisure  activity in the UK that will be Team Sky's legacy. If that gets some more people commuting by bike then great, thats a bonus.

 

Though I've never been a particularly big fan of Sky or its owners as a brand, I can't argue with what their invesment has done for cycling in the UK. Whether that be due to the Sky Rides to dominance of the grand tours at pro level it has had a massively positive impact on cycling in the UK. Yes, the ball started rolling with Olympic/Track success with Boardman and Obree, then guys like Wiggins and Cavendish who moved from track to road but Sky capitalised on that and took it a step further with road Grand Tour success.

 

I know of many successful UK cyclists long before Chris Boardman's time but would the average person in the street be able to name them? I doubt it. Once the sport had created 'celebrities' like Cav and Wiggins you saw the increase in the popularity of the Tour of Britain, and now the Tour de Yorkshire also. In the Milk Race days you would never see the crowds you do now.

 

For me it is all the primary school age kids who line the UK roadsides during the ToB/TdY who will be most positively impacted by Sky's legacy. They will be the ones who (unlike me) will have grown up with British cycling success on the global stage as the 'norm' and have male and female cycling 'heros' on their bedroom walls.

 

Of course the media also likes to focus on the negative aspects of pro cycling like jiffy bags but I think that overwhelmingly the positives will outweigh those negatives. 

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shutuplegz [80 posts] 2 months ago
2 likes

..... in terms of what Team Sky have done for me personally though, I am kind of reminded of VecchioJo's humourous piece from three years ago, which struck a nerve with me at the time!

 

https://road.cc/content/blog/177597-i-hate-you-all

 

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mogrim [55 posts] 2 months ago
0 likes

They've turned my favourite summer sport on TV into a snorefest, the sooner they lose their overwhelming funding the better.

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Joe Totale [144 posts] 2 months ago
3 likes
mogrim wrote:

They've turned my favourite summer sport on TV into a snorefest, the sooner they lose their overwhelming funding the better.

There's always a team that dominates, usually because of funding. In the past it's been Banesto, US Postel, Mapei, now it's Sky. 

No one moans about Quickstep despite the fact that they dominated everything last year that wasn't a grand tour and had 30 more wins than Sky.