Sky methods send British riders to top

Published: 23rd July 2012 12:03 PM  |   Last Updated: 23rd July 2012 12:03 PM   |  A+A-


Before this year's Tour de France, Britain had come up short more often than any other nation in the history of cycling's most prestigious event.
No other country had sent more riders to the 109-year-old race without ever making the podium as Britain.
But thanks to Bradley Wiggins and Christopher Froome, the first riders from the same nation to secure a 1-2 finish in the Tour in 28 years, the wait is over.
The last time two riders from the same nation finished first and second in the Tour was 1984, when Laurent Fignon beat fellow Frenchman Bernard Hinault.
Froome and Wiggins also became the first teammates to claim the top two positions since Bjarne Riis of Denmark defeated Jan Ullrich of Germany in 1996.
The British duo's achievements marked the coming-of-age of their team Sky, which climbed to the top of world cycling in a record time thanks to a big budget and an international roster of riders.
"This season, this bunch of riders have performed at a level that has not been seen many times before in the history of the sport," Sky sports director Sean Yates said. "The last team that dominated like we've done was Miguel Indurain's Banesto squad in the early 90's. You could put (Lance Armstrong's) U.S. Postal team up there as well, but it's pretty rare."
When the new British outfit announced in 2009 its intention to produce a Tour de France winner within five years, it found itself at the receiving end of mockery and criticism for what was seen as arrogance.
The team, which advocates computer-assisted training, went through a complicated first season but finally achieved its objectives well ahead of schedule.
"A lot of people laughed when we said that we could win this race in five years with a clean British rider," Sky manager Dave Brailsford said. "I'd never have said that we could do it unless I really believed that we could. We were serious about it, we'd done our homework, we knew what Bradley was capable of and what a British team would be capable of - and we set about it."
Brailsford, who masterminded the British harvest of medals on the track at the Beijing Olympics four years ago as British Cycling's performance director, brought to Sky the same methods he used to build successes in the Velodrome.
With Sky being one of the richest teams in cycling, Brailsford was able to sign ace sprinter Mark Cavendish and experienced domestiques Richie Porte and Edvald Boasson Hagen to build one of the strongest teams in cycling history.
Those top-class riders could all be leaders in other teams but put their personal ambitions on ice and dedicated themselves to Wiggins.
"A team is like a machine," Cavendish said. "It's built and you need to find the most efficient way to win a bike race. In the past I was always the last person, the one who crossed the line. Now, I'm just a bit more further up in the chain of events. Brad is the thing, and at the end of the day we are doing our job and raising the profile of cycling in our country and making history."
One of Sky's main assets is former swimming coach Tim Kerrison, who worked specifically with the riders involved in Wiggins' bid to win the Tour.
Kerrison is opposed to the traditional periodization of training in cycling that is built around the theory that riders can only be at their best for one or two periods each year. He altered Wiggins' training to make him competitive in most of the races he enters and convinced him to adopt a healthier way of life during the offseason, when the Londoner would normally put on weight.
As a result, Wiggins has been invincible this season, achieving an unprecedented string of wins at some of the biggest stage races. The 32-year-old Londoner, who was reduced to watch Cadel Evans win the 2011 Tour from his couch after breaking a collarbone, got off to a strong start this year with a win at Paris-Nice and followed up with victories at the Tour of Romandie, the Criterium du Dauphine and the Tour.
"Kerrison knew nothing about cycling when he arrived," Brailsford said. "That's what I wanted, taking someone from outside. With him, we've taken a different view to periodization. But it requires a massive talent and it requires a massive amount of work. And that's what we are doing."
It had been 75 years since Bill Burl and Charles Holland became the first Britons to race the Tour de France in 1937. In the time since, 59 Britons had tested their legs in cycling's greatest event, without ever reaching the top.
Before Wiggins and Froome, the closest Britain ever got to a Tour champion was Robert Millar, who finished fourth in 1984. Wiggins' equaled that feat in 2009, demonstrating that his transformation from Olympic track champion to road cyclist was complete.
Brailsford is determined to build on Sky's successes to create "the best cycling team ever."
"From a team perspective we'd like to build on this and I'd like to think this is not just a one-off," he said. "We should take time and reflect a little bit but we're building a team for the future and to keep on progressing and coming back to this race to do it all again."


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