Rod Ellingworth, the Team Sky race coach, will make his first appearance at a race on Sunday, when he assists sports director Sean Yates at the Vuelta a Andalucia. So far, Ellingworth has focused on the team’s training camps in Valencia and Mallorca, performing his race coaching role remotely, but to good effect, with the new squad notching up four wins in the first five weeks of the season.
As well as planning lead-out and team time trial formations, Ellingworth is individually coaching many of Team Sky’s twenty-five riders. His is an unusual role, and one that is unlikely to see him spending the bulk of the season in a team car, as he explains.
“Being sports director in the car isn’t my favourite part of the job,” admits Ellingworth, who previously ran the British under-23 academy, overseeing the early careers of Mark Cavendish, Geraint Thomas and Ben Swift, among others.
“With the under-23 team I was with the riders constantly, and being in the team car was part of that, but even then I always preferred the training part of the job. I haven’t been to a race yet with Team Sky. We’re just building things at the moment, and it’s been important to focus on that process, so I’ve been in training camps pretty much since the start of the year.
“But it’ll be good to get in amongst it, because there’s so much you can take in at the races,” he adds. “After Andalucia, where I’ll be second director to Sean, I’ll go to the Tour of Murcia as first director, and then, later in March, the Tour of Catalunya.”
That will see Ellingworth pair up with Bradley Wiggins as the British star steps up his preparation for the summer. Apart from Team Sky’s two training camps in Valencia, with the last of these finishing this weekend, Ellingworth recently travelled to Mallorca with Wiggins, Thomas and Ian Stannard for a week of specific training, in which, says Ellingworth, the three riders “did a lot of really good work, and came out of it well.”
As Wiggins explained a fortnight ago, the training on the Spanish island included sessions during which Ellingworth, on a motorbike, mimicked “Andy Schleck’s horrible accelerations” during last year’s Tour, using data collected by the English Institute of Sport.
“I’m working a lot with Bradley,” says Ellingworth, “just making sure everything’s in place for him, and that he’s fully supported in training. A lot of the work is based around what we know of the racing; we’re really trying to put some proper race information into training, so it’s quite specific.”
But Ellingworth’s efforts aren’t exclusively focused on Wiggins. “If any of the riders want information, I’m trying to give it to them,” he says. “With most it’s simple programmes, and getting them to understand the training efforts, offering the kind of support they perhaps haven’t had in the past. We want to make the training more like racing, so that it’s not just training.
“At first - and quite rightly - some of them were a little hesitant,” Ellingworth continues, “but you can’t blame them. You’ve got to remember that some of them have been let down in the past; some have been promised the earth and that hasn’t been delivered. I think that’s where we’ve got to be really careful.
“I’m not trying to force anything on anybody. It’s about showing, first and foremost, that you’re there to support them. And if they like your ways, they’ll end up asking questions.”