Team Sky: Ready for the leap

Eleven months on from the announcement that a British team would enter the top level of professional road cycling, Team Sky will commence its first race at the Cancer Council Classic in Adelaide, Australia, on Sunday. It's a world away from the British Cycling office in Manchester, England, where performance director Dave Brailsford hatched a plan that includes the team's bold ambition to see a British rider win the Tour de France within five years.

Adelaide's city centre, too, is a long way from the famed Boulevard of the Champs-Élysées, yet in many ways it is the most appropriate place for Sky's true journey and test to begin. With a budget of - if reports are to be believed - up £30 million (USD48.5 million), equipment that has been closely scrutinised by Formula 1 aerodynamic experts and a team bus that sports, amongst other custom features, a lighting schematic designed by psychologist Steve Peters, it is no small irony that the six Sky men in Adelaide are likely to have little more than a 12-seater van as their support.

Of course, the story will change once the team's European campaign gets underway a week later, but the message at the team presentation in London earlier this month was that essence of the squad will remain the same. Beneath the flashing lights and high production-value videos of the team launch, Brailsford's modus operandi was clear: This team is about the riders.

"We've got a fantastic partner in Team Sky, and all our other partners, but I think the real hard work is all about supporting the riders. It's their careers, their results; it's not about fanfare, it's about people in the sport of cycling and the riders are what it's really all about," he said.

"I think the real job of this team is to support the riders, each and everyone of them, to make sure that they can be the best that they can be. That's the real work, that's the real challenge. It's what we do on a day-to-day that this team's all about; that is really where the hard work really is going to get focussed."

While the team management insists the ideology of the team is about making the riders "the best that they can be", the reality of professional cycling is that the team will be judged on its ability to secure wins. Although he was reticent to predict the number of wins the team is capable of, with Brailsford's track record as British Cycling's performance director and an imposing rider roster, if the Sky formula clicks, it has the potential to dominate from its debut season.

With Edvald Boasson Hagen, Bradley Wiggins and Simon Gerrans amongst its ranks, the team have riders who have the ability to land at the important end of result sheets, whether at stage or one day races. While the recruitment of the right team leaders was a primary concern in Sky's set-up, the same meticulous selection approach was taken with each of the 26 riders of the team. A major player in that approach was Sports Director Scott Sunderland, who said the personalities of the riders had been a key element in deciding who to hire.

"We've got the right ingredients for building a great team and a team that will have one another's backs. We've got some riders in the team who people have asked, 'Why him?' Well, when these guys are in the thick of things and think 'I've got great legs, I'm ready, and I'm in a position to win', they look to their side or behind them and say, 'My teammate's got a better chance to win - I'm backing him.'

"The commitment is there, the passion is definitely there - personally, I've got a shipload of passion for this, that's why I've been doing what I've been doing [in the set-up of the team]. The same goes for the riders, they're a great bunch of guys and already the friendship has been growing everytime they meet, we've got very good harmony there."

On scale alone, Team Sky has catapulted itself into a position of being the poster boys for British Cycling's concept of "marginal gains" - a theory taught to the federation's developing riders where they aim to eliminate as many variables or risks that could stand in the way of failure. While other teams have shown the reward an exacting approach can reap - HTC-Columbia's lead out train for Mark Cavendish at last year's Tour de France a prime example - Sky have stated and already demonstrated the attention to detail they will take through their high-tech set-up.

While the "all the bells-and-whistles" approach of Sky might appear to only multiply the expectation that will be placed on the team, Brailsford explained that the meticulous approach is instead the strongest weapon the team will have in coping with the pressure.

"You need a clear plan. You need a clear idea of 'what is it we're trying to do here, what is the mission and what tactics are we going to do to achieve it.' That's something we've developed a lot over the last ten years at British Cycling and will continue to do.

"The key thing, I think, is you need to have an outcome goal. You look at it and say 'what do we need to achieve it', with whom, how, where, when and all the rest of it. Once you've nailed all that down then it becomes relatively easy to wake up and realise 'this is what I need to do today'. If you break it down into bite-size pieces then it all seems quite achievable."

With the not insignificant period of administration behind them, the magnifying glass through which the Sky project is viewed will now be focussed by actual performance, rather than conjecture about its on-paper potential. With the first marks to be made on the report card on Sunday in Adelaide, Scott Sunderland said the team is ready for the leap.

"You can over-analyse things and sometimes you've just got to move on ahead. If something isn't 100 percent, you fine tune it later. That's where we are now, everybody [in the team] is sort of saying 'lets go now'.

"There's no stress on us for the beginning of the season, but yes, we're a new team and everybody's excited. You can see that with the riders, they just want to get out there. They've got a new team, new kit and it's a little bit of history being a British team on this level. So yes, people are going to be looking at us, but it [success] should come by itself - if we're doing everything right from the support staff and the back office all we need to do is support the riders and it'll come."

Thank you for reading 5 articles in the past 30 days*

Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read any 5 articles for free in each 30-day period, this automatically resets

After your trial you will be billed £4.99 $7.99 €5.99 per month, cancel anytime. Or sign up for one year for just £49 $79 €59

Join now for unlimited access

Try your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1