By Neil Pedoe in Manchester
On Wednesday, British Cycling and Sky Sports unveiled the new Sky+HD Trade Team kit and the track cyclists that will wear it. The team will be made up of Beijing Olympic Games heroes Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton, Shanaze Reade, Jamie Staff, Ross Edgar and Jason Kenny. The striking new skinsuits will be seen in competition for the first time in this weekend's UCI World Cup at the Manchester velodrome.
Only four of the six riders will join the rest of the British Cycling squad to secure qualifying points for the World Championships in Poland next March. Hoy will rest his legs for a Six Day event next week, and Reade will attend other cycling commitments.
The jet black suits designed by Sky and Team GB kit suppliers Adidas seem to have taken a leaf out of Italian legend Mario Cipollini's style book, with electric blue muscle tissue graphics in flashes down the sides and backs of the suits. The British team kit does not aim for the same anatomical colour or detail as Cipollini's famous attention-seeking skinsuit.
The new squad within-a-squad seems to like the new kit. "At least it's breathable, unlike that kit we wore in Beijing," said team sprint lead out man Jamie Staff. "But we can't wear that anymore because I think it's been shredded!"
While the British team was already one of the best supported squads in the world, Sky's sponsorship means that top athletes can now train, race and be paid like the professional cyclists they are without having to leave the British Cycling fold.
"Put it this way, it means my cycling can properly support my family now. It's not a football salary but I can pay the mortgage and the bills and put food on the table," said Staff. "At least now the backing's there to make a career of track cycling."
"Cycling's at an all-time high in the UK, and this partnership with Sky will really help the sport go from strength to strength, from the grassroots entry points up to the highest levels," said British Cycling Performance Director David Brailsford, the man who set up the Sky deal. He knows that having a digital television company on board means more exposure for his sport, which will in turn lead to more commercial opportunities.
It's still early days, but the new trade team, which appears to be more a sponsored section of the GB squad than an independent racing team, is an important step in Brailsford's master plan, where elite cycling of all kinds will needed funding for success be it Olympic medals or Tour de France stage wins.
But British Cycling won't just use the money to pay its trade team or even just to fund the academy and development programs although sprint gold medal winner Kenny is ongoing proof of the success of that program. It will also put the money into everyday cycling and leisure riding. Brailsford's job might be only about elite sport but the Sky deal he has brokered will bring, and has already brought, funding to non-competitive areas of cycling too this summer's 55,000 strong London Freewheel mass participation was the first proof of that commitment.
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