Dave Brailsford has revealed he had four or five different sponsorship options as he worked to save Team Sky, eventually opting to go with petrochemical multinational Inoes because they would be part of a multi-sport project and would still retain their British identity.
Brailsford, speaking ahead of the Giro d'Italia admitted he went through a moment of reflection when Sky announced it would leave professional cycling last December but he now seems as enthusiastic and determined to win as ever before, despite criticism of Inoes’ environmental record and its plans to use the controversial fracking technique in parts of Britain to extract natural gas.
Brailsford attended the Team Ineos pre-Giro d’Italia press conference with Pavel Sivakov and Tao Geoghegan Hart, who will lead the team in the absence of Egan Bernal. He also answered questions about the absence of Gianni Moscon from the Giro squad after his poor spring campaign, confirmed that Rod Ellingworth is no longer part of the team after a reported move to Bahrain-Merida as future team manager, and insisted that Tim Kerrison will remain as Head of Performance.
Many predicted that Brailsford would struggle to find a new team owner and sponsor willing to bankroll his big-budget team but he proved them wrong, learning how cycling teams can emulate other sports and perhaps work together to boost the sport.
"For the last 10 years, I’ve focused on the sporting and performance side and kind of turned the business side off because we had Sky, but when they ended their time in the sport I had to make an adjustment," Brailsford admitted.
"For the first two weeks I reflected on my choices. You look at yourself and reflect after 10 years. You ask: 'what did we learn? What mistakes did we make? What should we change?' It was a nice time to reflect but I decided to go again. I decided to go out to the world and see what we could find and then make a decision in March.
"It felt awkward at first but I quickly realised there are a lot of people who want to invest in cycling. We had four or five options. It wasn’t about taking half of the current budget and seeing if we can get it. You’re trying to sell value, not a sum of money. When I met Jim [Ratcliffe, owner of Ineos], I realised it’s a multi-sport project, a British project, and personally I like that. I like his adventure, so it’s a good fit."
Some rival team managers and even UCI President David Lappartient have called for a budget cap to somehow clip Brailsford’s wings and perhaps end his team’s dominance of the Tour de France.
Brailsford called on his rivals to look for more investment rather than try to limit his sponsorship, insisting that there are sponsors keen to enter professional cycling.
"There’s no point in one team having way more money than an other but we’ve got to try to equalize investment, not reduce it. There are people with money out there, we should increase sponsorship, so the cake gets bigger," he argued.
"I think we could all work better as a collective in cycling and help each other. I went to the USA and studied the NBA and the Major League Soccer. They all realise that their sports have to grow. They compete on the pitch but at strategic level they help each other. In cycling there’s an opportunity to be more collaborative. There is more money out there and as an ecosystem we should all go up a level, not come down."
Losing Ellingworth, keeping Kerrison
As Team Sky became Team Ineos, Cyclingnews revealed that Rod Ellingworth would leave Brailsford's side after more than a decade together to become team manager at Bahrain-Merida. He will soon compete with his former boss, perhaps taking several key staff members with him to Bahrain-Merida.
Ellingworth’s role at Bahrain-Merida has yet to be confirmed by the team but he has already been removed from Team Inoes’ staff page. Brailsford confirmed in Bologna that he is out of the team and explained that he tried to minimise the loss.
"At the end of the day, we’ve worked together for a long time. People work together but then they also move on," Brailsford said.
"It’s like an assistant manager in football, they move on. It’s the riders who race against each other; we’re not racing each other. We’ve adjusted, we’ve changed the structure of the team, and you move on."
Rumours have also been circulating in the peloton that lead coach and Head of Performance Tim Kerrison may also leave the team in the months to come and perhaps leave professional cycling altogether.
"Do you know something I don’t?" Brailsford asked the small group of media, including Cyclingnews, with whom he talked after the press conference.
"Tim leaving? I don’t think so. In the last period, he’s been the best Tim Kerrison I’ve seen in a long time. He’s been very engaged and on the top of his game."
Brailsford was also defensive when asked about Gianni Moscon. The Italian was expected to be part of the Team Inoes squad for the Giro d’Italia but, after a difficult spring, he been sent to the Tour of California. In a recent interview with the Italian Bicisport magazine, Moscon criticized the decision to send him to a pre-season training camp at altitude in Colombia, suggesting it has derailed his training and spring campaign.
Moscon has endured a rollercoaster career. He has impressed in the Classics and stage races but also caused controversy. He racially abused Kevin Reza at the 2017 Tour de Romandie, and was later sidelined for six weeks. Last year he was disqualified from the Tour de France after aiming a punch at Elie Gesbert during stage 15 and was suspended for five weeks.
"With Gianni it was interesting," Brailsford said of the Italian's difficult spring, convinced his problems stem from a crash at the UAE Tour.
"We went to Colombia for the altitude camp and he looked good, we thought he was going to have a cracking season. Then he went to the UAE Tour and that crash knocked him. He stopped in Tirreno-Adriatico and then was up and down in the Classics. It’s hard if you have that kind of season, whoever you are. His form hasn’t been consistent because of the crash.
"We’d never done the two weeks in Colombia and there you sleep high and train high, that’s different to other altitude camps. But it’s not as if Gianni trained with any intensity there and some of the guys there raced the Tour of Colombia. So I don’t think it was a mistake for Gianni to go there, it was just a different approach. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t."
So recently we had a choice of two things: throw him into a Grand Tour in his home country or go to the Tour of California. At the Giro if you’re not sure of your form, you’re going to either get really tired and it’ll be a miserable experience, or you might come up and get some form. But I liked the California option for Gianni because he’s a winner; he’s got it more than others. And I felt with Egan Bernal and the plan to lead the team at the Giro, Gianni would have to support him. We’ve decided he can try to win something in California, get his form back, get a smile back and maybe up there in the final."
Despite Moscon’s problems and his criticism of Team Inoes’ training plans, Brailsford insisted the Italian would stay at the team and has his trust.
"Yeah, 100 per cent," Brailsford said.