With the news that the UCI has approved Team Sky’s Pro Tour licence one aspect of Christmas has come early for British Cycling. Now it is just weeks away from being able to play with its shiny new train set. We already know what it looks like though, just, because like the kid that keeps finding packages hidden throughout the house it has been revealing bits of the set since back in September.
Yet, like a jigsaw puzzle that you’ve been working on for weeks only to discover that the final piece is missing, the picture just isn’t quite complete, or to continue the analogy one of your locomotives is missing. It’s not enough to stop the train leaving the station but you might wish you had it when the train needs to go uphill somewhere down the track.
Hold on though, there it is lurking in the corner of the dog basket. Except, it’s occupied by a hound that really doesn’t want to move no matter how big a bone you wave at it, but more of Bradley Wiggins and Jonathan Vaughters later.
Over a year in the making, Team Sky will be Britain’s first ‘proper’ world class professional cycling team ever, the failed Linda McCartney experiment discounted. What about Barloworld [some] of you cry? Ah, good question, and is really the opening question in a debate as to what goes way beyond the country of registration to make a team Italian, Dutch or British.
Sky suffers no such ambiguity. While its roster has a distinctly international flavour, with some 17 of the 24 riders signed thus far being non-British, Team Sky is essentially British in character with a British sponsor and with the backing of British Cycling. Its HQ will be Manchester, though it will conduct operations out of Belgium, and Its Team Principal is Dave Brailsford, Team GB’s Olympic performance director and the architect behind Britain’s medal haul at Beijing.
His ambitions for Sky are arguably even higher than he had for Team GB at the Olympics. Back when the team was announced on 26 February 2009 he had this to say, ““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.”
A Few Good Men
It was clear that things were afoot way back in 2008. Too much had been happening in British Cycling, what with the Track Cycling World Championships, and the Olympics, for nothing like this to happen. While the track was providing a rich seam of gold, on the road British riders were making their presence known –none quite as flamboyantly as Mark Cavendish who unhappily for Brailsford and Co has not yet been tempted away from Columbia HTC. All told it meant that alongside the track Britain was dangerously close to being taken seriously as a road cycling nation too.
It needs to be if a team is to have any hope of commercial survival. As successful as the track has been for British Cycling, from a sponsor’s perspective it has limited appeal. Leaving aside the small issue that the bulk of track cycling’s Blue Riband events are structured around national teams, track cycling demands that the public comes to it, whereas road cycling goes to the people and is free. A road cycling team also has the singular benefit of being able to provide naming rights, a benefit afforded by few sports. That and the levels of exposure are why road racing gets the sponsorship elsewhere.
As when this team would come into being rumours had already been circulating in early 2008, but when Aussie Scott Sunderland announced his resignation from Cervelo Test team at the launch of the 2009 Tour de France in October 2008, citing “differences” it was coming clear that a new team was more of a reality than not. Guys like Sunderland don’t just go back to the farm or play second fiddle to a team playing cult of the personality. So when this author was given a heads-up of Scott’s impending move by a key member of the British cycling establishment it was only a matter of time before an official announcement would be made.
While Brailsford’s asserted that his ambition is for the team to be an incubator for British talent he knows that his responsibility is to sponsors. Few pro teams can achieve their goals using home grown talent alone. Those like Euskadi-Euskatel, which while commercially sponsored are a quasi-national team are clearly parochially focussed. Team Sky doesn’t have that luxury. If it is not to be seen as a novelty team it must win everywhere and win big. Brailsford knows this hence Team Sky is a multicultural outfit.
On the management side Sunderland is joined by two newly retired riders; 36-year-old Steven de Jongh who retired from Quickstep this year and 34-year-old Marcus Ljungqvist recently retired from racing with CSC/SaxoBank. The latter said, “I’m very excited about my new career move. Just a couple of weeks ago I was still a rider and had some tough decisions to make about my future. Then this opportunity came along and I immediately thought ‘yes!’ This is a fantastic possibility for me and I can't wait to be a part of one of the most exiting things ever to happen in professional cycling. I’ve been involved in the sport for my whole life – the last 12 years as a professional – and it’s great that I can stay involved with a sport that I love and use my knowledge and experience to help develop Team Sky.”
The most recently announced member of the management team is Brit Sean Yates who has spent the last few years with first Discovery and latterly Astana. Yates is a wise investment and balances the need to please the home crowd and the need to hit the ground running.
Dave Brailsford said: “Sean brings a wealth of experience and we’ve been very keen for a long time to bring him on board. He’s well known as a hard-working sports director with a deep understanding of the sport and good connection to his riders and staff. He will be a true asset to our management team and a great colleague for the other Sports Directors we have signed.”
Sean Yates said; “I’m extremely excited to join Team Sky. Obviously for me, to be part of a British team at the highest level is something truly special. I have a lot of experience in a winning team and I look forward to helping Team Sky to fulfil its goals. The scope and the ambition of the project is unique and I think we have put together a great team. I really believe we can be contenders on all levels in the future and I’m proud to become part of that.”
A Galaxy forms
Just as multi-cultural is the impressive roster Brailsford and his men have been steadily developing over the summer. As one would expect there is a strong British presence drawn from his impressive track squad and the first six riders, announced after much anticipation on the 9 September 2009, were Brits Geraint Thomas, Peter Kennaugh, Steve Cummings, Chris Froome, Ian Stannard, and Russell Downing. There are no charity rides here with four of the six having seen action as professionals in Europe – see profiles here.
Announcing these first riders Brailsford said, “Today brings an important milestone. Team Sky is a major project for British sport; a British Professional Cycling team built to take on the Tour de France.
“We have a rider-centred philosophy so these are the people at its heart. It gives me huge satisfaction to announce these first riders. And as a British Team, I am proud that the first on our roster are British.
“They bring experience of the Tour de France, honours from the Olympics and World Championships, and exciting talent. We can help them continue to develop in this new environment and I know that they can help Team Sky take on the best on the road and win.”
“We have put a lot of time and energy into identifying and recruiting riders who will fit the Team Sky ethos and performance principles. Their style and approach to racing will only enhance our prospects of encouraging a nation of people to get out and ride.”
The next day saw the announcement of a further ten riders with some surprises: Edvald Boasson Hagen, Thomas Lovkvist, Kurt Arvesen, Simon Gerrans, Juan Antonio Flecha, Kjell Carlstrom, John Lee Augustyn, Greg Henderson, Lars Petter Nordhaug and Morris Possoni.
Norwegian Boassen Hagen was probably the biggest coup, having been ranked 3rd in the 2009 UCI World Rankings at the end of August. The others are no shirkers. Swede Lokvist has worn the Maglia Rosa of the Giro d’Italia while Aussie Simon Gerrans is a former winner of the Tour Down Under a race tipped to be Team Sky’s first outing as a professional squad. Arvesen, and the others boast various stage wins at the Giro, Tour de France and Vuelta.
Since the big announcements of September the team has added Michael Barry, Christopher Sutton and Serge Pauwels followed by Sylvain Calzati, Nicolas Portal and Mathew Hayman and finally Dario Cioni and Davide Vigano.
The surprise then isn’t that team Sky has recruited them, but their respective teams, including the likes of Columbia HTC, have let the riders go.
All Aboard the Pinarello Dogma Express
On October 9 Team Sky announced it had agreed a three-year technical partner deal with Italian Bike manufacturer Cicli Pinarello.
Pinarello, who have been making bikes for more than five decades, will supply the frames, forks, seat posts and headsets to the team. The announcement brings the first major technical partner to Team Sky.
Announcing the deal, Fausto Pinarello, President of Cicli Pinarello said: “We are very happy with this new partnership. Team Sky’s goal of becoming one of the world’s leading cycling teams, fits with our objective of continuing and growing our presence as one of the world’s leading bicycle manufacturers. We have signed a three year agreement and we look forward to a long, prosperous and successful collaboration.”
Pinarello is supplying three frame-sets per team member based using the Dogma 60.1
Frame: Dogma 60.1 Carbon 60HM1K Torayca Di2 (ready for Shimano Dura-Ace Di2)
Fork: Onda FPX1 carbon 60HM1K 1" 1/8 - 1" 1/4 integral system
A Galaxy without a Star?
So far the roster is up at 24 which leaves one more place and while the team is certainly chock full of talent it arguably lacks the one rider that will spark the team to life in the British public’s imagination. Sure Boassen Hagen turned the 2009 Tour of Britain into a one-man show but we are talking about the British public here who are not known for their cycling general knowledge.
Bradley Wiggins is the man on everyone’s lips and certainly the bookies favourite. The lateness of the hour and the richness of the rumour have even led L’Equipe newspaper to state recently that Wiggins had signed for Sky but just hadn’t announced a date.
Wiggins may yet be the final piece of the jigsaw but there is still the small matter of getting out of his two year contract with Garmin-Slipstream. Enter the guard dog. Team boss Jonathan Vaughters is not deliberately preventing Sky’s party starting in earnest, but as he stated recently he has his team and sponsors to look out for. He vigorously denies that an arrangement has been made. Certainly the announcement last week that Garmin has acquired a new sponsor and changed its name to Garmin-Transitions suggests there is some way to go before the waters clear.
If Wiggins does make the move, then one Brit will be forever a stranger at Sky and that’s Mark Cavendish who may never forgive Wiggins for “letting him down” at Beijing. Of course he swore he would never ride track again then did his bit for Queen and country at the 2009 Track Champs. Team Sky isn’t about patriotism though and pride does have its price.
Whatever happens now it is just six and bit weeks until January 17 and the start of the Tour Down Under. With or without Wiggins or A N Other star there will be no shortage of power to Sky’s punch. Let the show begin.
A team in the making – a potted history of Team Sky’s 2009
Thursday 26 February 2009 - BSkyB has announced the creation of a professional British road cycling team, Team Sky, to be managed by Great Britain Olympic performance director Dave Brailsford CBE.
Wednesday 9 September 2009 - Team Sky today announces the first riders to join the team are British riders: Geraint Thomas Mbe: Peter Kennaugh: Steve Cummings: Chris Froome: Ian Stannard: Russell Downing.
Thursday 10 September 2009 – A further ten international riders have signed to the team: Edvald Boasson Hagen, Thomas Lovkvist, Kurt Arvesen, Simon Gerrans, Juan Antonio Flecha, Kjell Carlstrom, John Lee Augustyn, Greg Henderson, Lars Petter Nordhaug and Morris Possoni.
Friday 9 October 2009 - Team Sky announces it has agreed a three-year technical partner deal with Italian Bike manufacturer Cicli Pinarello.
21 October 2009 - Marcus Ljungqvist will join Team Sky in the New Year as Sports Director. Ljungqvist retired from professional cycling earlier this month after the Paris-Tours race.
Thursday 29 October 2009 - Team Sky today announced three more riders for the new professional road cycling team: Michael Barry, Christopher Sutton and Serge Pauwels.
Monday 16 November 2009 - Team Sky today announced three more riders for the new professional road cycling team; Sylvain Calzati, Nicolas Portal and Mathew Hayman.
Thursday 19 November 2009 - Team Sky today confirmed its latest recruits; Italian professionals Dario Cioni and Davide Vigano.
Friday 20 November 2009 –Announcement that Sean Yates will join Team Sky in the New Year as Sports Director.
Satuday 21 November 2009 – L’Equipe claims that Bradley Wiggins has signed to Sky from Garmin Slipstream. Garmin denies.
Roster as at 1 December 2009:
The Team Sky riders announced to date are Geraint Thomas, Steve Cummings, Pete Kennaugh, Chris Froome, Ian Stannard, Russell Downing, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Thomas Löfkvist, Kurt Arvesen, Simon Gerrans, Juan Antonio Flecha, Kjell Carlstrom, John Lee Augustyn, Greg Henderson, Lars Petter Nordhaug, Morris Possoni, Michael Barry, Serge Pauwels, Chris Sutton, Sylvain Calzati, Nicolas Portal and Mathew Hayman.
British Cycling - www.britishcycling.org.uk
Cicli Pinarello - www.pinarello.com
Union Cyclisme International www.uci.ch
Tour Down Under - www.tourdownunder.com.au Bradley Wiggins Twiter Page here
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