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The masterminds behind Team Sky: Sean Yates (l) and Dave Brailsford.
British team boss admits mistakes in 2010
Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford has admitted that his team needs to focus more on enjoyment if they are to improve on a 2010 season which critics viewed as an underwhelming debut in the pro elite.
Brailsford said that Sky must look to avoid an "isolated and robotic" approach in 2011. In a recent interview with Procycling magazine, Bradley Wiggins suggested that Garmin's more relaxed modus operandi perhaps partly explained why he was able to finish fourth in the 2009 Tour de France with the American team, yet only managed 24th with Sky this term.
Also on Thursday, Sky's senior directeur sportif Sean Yates conceded that the team's goals for Wiggins going into the 2010 Tour were "possibly unrealistic". The esteemed former pro nonetheless believes that a top ten finish for the Englishman at the 2011 race is "easily attainable".
Speaking to journalists at the Savill Court Hotel in Windsor, where Sky has assembled this week for its first team meeting of the winter, Yates also conceded that the glitz and glamour surrounding their arrival in the pro ranks had done Wiggins et al few favours.
"Sky is a media company and it is normal that a launch is good and big and will get everyone excited," said Yates. "We tried desperately to live up to the expectations. In a way we shot ourselves in the foot. But what are you going to do? You can't go under the radar with a sponsor like Sky.
"Obviously, yes, it did set the bar high. But there's only so much you can drag out of the riders. The energy kind of tailed off after the initial super start."
Growing pains and lessons learnt
Confidence was another thing which, according to Yates, dwindled as the 2010 season wore on. And as that seeped away, so, said Brailsford, did their faith in some of the innovations that, a year ago, many imagined would propel them to victories and plaudits galore.
One such idea was the screen erected around the Sky team bus at major races to shield riders from distractions as they warmed up for time trials.
"Let's not build a box around the bus would be a good idea, a good starting point," said Brailsford with a smile. "That for us was an obvious logical thing to do - from a rider's point of view, it created a little haven for them, for them to perform, and off we go.
"But we weren't thinking about the fans. We weren't thinking about being engaging, and I think that's where we learned lessons really. We want to be open. We want intimacy, to be engaging, inspiring. That's what we want to do next year."
Reflecting specifically on this year's Tour, Brailsford added:
"The Tour was hard. Very hard. But it was hard in so far as one rider, one race. Look at Thomas Lofkvist - he had his best ever Tour. Juan Antonio Flecha had his best ever Tour. I think there was a lot of expectation, and when you live that day after day after day, and when you know that expectation isn't going to be realised, that's a difficult place to be.
"It's like talking to team at half-time, when you say, we set out to win this match but it's not going to happen. It was quite a humbling experience really. But like anything else, when you sit back and look at it, there are opportunities. From humbling experiences you learn. Sport's about fighting and making the best of those opportunities.
"It's easy to portray the season as all doom and gloom because that's how people like to do it, but when you look at the whole picture you see 73 podiums, 25 wins... It was a very successful year but we keep harping back to the same subject. It's the Tour which summarises our year but there is much more to us," Brailsford concluded.
Having added Frenchman Nicolas Portal, Holland's Servais Knaven and the American Bobby Julich to his coaching staff, Brailsford said that he would step back slightly from the day-to-day running of Team Sky in 2011. That leaves Yates as his tactical mastermind - and the man charged with restoring Wiggins to the Tour's top ten.
"Brad's got to go back to where he was in '09, get out there and enjoy the bike racing," Yates said. "Physically he is able to perform at a high level on the Tour, even when it is hard. But he has to be in the right frame of mind; he has to ride a bike, not continuously thinking of the Tour as he did this year. That is a lot of pressure and expectation. And there was nothing along the way to boost himself.
"Brad likes racing. He likes to win, so let's do it," added Yates. "That'll bring motivation and morale. He doesn't have to spend the whole year training for the Tour.
"As a team, we've got the team time trial on the second day. We've got Edvald [Boasson Hagen] and a lot of good riders. It's not unrealistic to make our goal to get the yellow jersey in the first week, without putting pressure on ourselves."
With that 23km team time trial at Les Essarts likely to dictate the shape of the general classification in the Tour's first week, one man who certainly would have enhanced Sky's prospects is Fabian Cancellara. Having watched Cancellara win Paris-Roubaix in April, it's believed that Sky mogul James Murdoch has become a huge admirer of the Swiss.
While official confirmation of Cancellara's transfer from Saxo Bank to the Schleck brothers' new Luxembourg-based team is yet to arrive, Brailsford effectively revealed that would be his destination. The Team Sky principal admitted to having tried and failed to lure "Spartacus" earlier in the year.
"Yeah, for sure we were in for him," Brailsford said. "We asked, enquired, but we knew pretty early on he'd go to Luxembourg. I think his mind was set on going to Luxembourg. The Luxembourg project is more Saxo Bank than Saxo Bank. It's not a new team. It's the same team, same riders. That's where he wanted to be and we respect that. Good luck to him."