Canadian domestique confident British squad is building strong platform
When Sky Professional Cycling Team was presented at its official launch in London in early January, Michael Barry was one of six riders selected to stand at the front of the stage, in the spotlight and apart from the others, to be quizzed by master of ceremonies, Dermot Murnaghan.
While the other chosen riders were either homegrown talent (Geraint Thomas, Peter Kennaugh, Bradley Wiggins) or overseas stars (Edvald Boasson Hagen, Thomas Lövkvist), Barry - with all respect to his star potential - clearly ticked another box: that of team captain.
Now 34, and with six Grand Tours in his legs, the Canadian is at ease in that role, and also in the role he has fulfilled for most of his career, as a domestique. "As a kid I was pretty intrigued by Eddy Merckx and the stars," said Barry, "but I was also fascinated by all the guys doing the work behind them: the domestiques. It was something I found appealing.
"Ever since I was a kid I wanted to win - that’s innate in all of us," he continues. "But for domestiques we have our own races, or objectives, within the race, which is part of accomplishing the greater goal.
"When I look back on my career I’ve had victories and great personal performances, but the really great memories have been when team has come together. What stands out is riding with Cav [Mark Cavendish] when he won Milan-Sanremo; that was something quite special. And I have good memories of winning the Tour of Italy with [Paolo] Salvodelli, because he was the underdog there. I don’t think many believed our team [Discovery Channel] could support him."
As Barry points out, there are no available statistics to reveal the effectiveness, or otherwise, of a domestique. Whereas in football or ice hockey team players can be credited for ‘assists,’ or for defensive work, in his chosen sport the bottom line tends to begin and end with the finishing line.
"The only statistic people know anything about is the victory," says Barry. "People generally don’t recognise the work that’s being done - I mean Mark Renshaw delivered Cav, and Greg Henderson delivered [André] Greipel to God knows how many victories last year...
"But for me, and within the peloton, there’s an incredible amount of respect for the guys who are doing all that work. We [domestiques] have a really unique life that most people don’t see a lot of, because there’s so much emphasis on the ultimate performance - in who wins. But it’s a role I take a lot of pleasure in."
And it’s a role he is preparing to fulfil again this year, albeit with a new team, and one that could allow him a little more personal freedom than his previous squads: HTC-Columbia, Discovery Channel and US Postal. "When I have opportunities I’ll take them," is all he will say on that.
Barry made his debut for Team Sky in late January at the GP Cycliste la Marseillaise, going from there to the Etoile des Besseges. "We went there obviously to perform well," he says, "but it’s still a building phase for us as a team, and we wanted to learn about each other as well.
"We’ve spent a lot of time training together, and getting to know each other as individuals, but we haven’t spent time in races together, and that’s a whole different aspect.
"Despite most of the guys getting sick in Besseges I think we were able to start to figure [each other] out. And I think looking back - and considering we didn’t have a sprinter - we rode well as a team. Again it’s a case of the results not necessarily reflecting the performance of the team, but we were up front a lot, and animating the race."
This weekend it’s the Tour du Haut Var for Barry, but he’ll soon begin turning his attention to the Classics. "The team is solid for the Classics," he said. "Personally I swing between the Ardennes and the cobbled Classics in selecting my favourites... But Paris-Roubaix is unbelievable. It sucks, but it’s pretty amazing, too."
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