The fans are unhappy, well lets say ‘irate’ over Wiggins dropping the bombshell to the British public, that one of their fondest sporting icons will not be chosen for the Sky Team for the Tour de France. This is the culmination of a series of problems running right back to the 2011 Vuelta Espania, where the physical abilities of Froome & Wiggins were first seen in direct comparison. This led to power struggle within the team which was never dealt with satisfactorily, the Sky management & initial premise the team was set up on are to blame. The riders are only doing what they can to protect their own positions, after all other avenues have failed, I blame the team, not either rider. Dave Brailsford lost the changing room a long time ago, fluffy management & a failure to imagine the consequences of that are now hugely evident, it looks like madness to not have dealt with conflicts a long time ago.
When Team Sky was launched, the public were led to believe that it was very close to Team GB, which was further accentuated by the sharing of resources, specifically the staff & management. Dave Brailsford was taking on a dual role, having had incredible success with the track team & produced multiple gold medals, he was put in charge of both Sky & GB, although only recently he’s assumed only Sky leadership. In hindsight, we can consider that a grave error. Sky was portrayed to the public as an accentuation of Team GB, a very British team, continuing the Olympic success into the trickier, but much more lucrative & competitive world of professional cycling. One week we’d see Brailsford in his Sky kit, the next he’d be doing an interview in the GB kit, the general sports fans would have assumed that Sky & GB were one & the same, it’s unthinkable for a top football team to have the same manager as the national team, surely they’re the same?
Again, in hindsight, we can look back & see that this was never going to be a suitable arrangement in the long-term. A professional team funded by one of the most ruthless media empires on the planet, running alongside a team based on winning medals at the Olympics. One hugely commercial & value determined by media exposure & increasing sales, the other based on a four-year cycle & the value based on the ‘feel good’ factor of a nation. These two contrasting motivations are mostly incompatible, but only occasionally cross over, was it correct to have the same people running them?
Sky was seen as a place for young British riders to develop their talent, it’s the place to avoid now, as shown by the Yates brothers going to Orica Green Edge instead. They were fully aware that they would be used as lower slope cannon-fodder for Froome or Wiggins, which wasn’t the best option for their career progression. Take Peter Kennaugh as a prime example, huge talent, but not given the chances he deserves & put in positions where he can’t show his talent or learn to become a leader. Other teams would revel in having a rider like him, but Sky’s formulaic approach to stage racing ignores the majority of riders they have in their ranks & their ability to win races, or stages of major events.
In many people’s eyes, Sky WAS Bradley Wiggins, he epitomised it’s Britishness, with his RAF logo & the Olympic throne image, further accentuating the blurring between Sky & GB. With Wiggins now likely leaving, perhaps Brailsford can look on this as a new dawn, he can put to one side his previous pressures from the British public to put national icons, or British riders first. They’ve been hugely successful up to now, with multiple stage race wins & two Tour de France victories. But as things are, things have to change to manage the expectations of all their riders, not just a handful of ‘favourites’. Sky need to keep riders happy, which is where an effective managements team & strategy is required. Sky doesn’t have that, their clinical approach to stage racing is being copied by others, but their man-management certainly is not.
In order for Sky to progress & keep their sponsors happy, they now need to change tack. Taking the incredible hard-line on removing anybody who had any links to doping is now looking like a bad move, while those staff members had their faults, they removed access to the people who would be able to manage the current situation very well. Those who understand the sport, have ridden in teams where there have been huge ego wars & know how to sort problems. Maybe it’s time to rethink that strategy, to soften it a little & stop the same thing happening over again, rather than removing an entire generation of experience from having an input.
When riders have to resort to releasing books to determine harmonious Tour squads, or appearing on rival news programmes to your team sponsor to put their side of the story across, the management have failed. In fact, its complete madness to have allowed things to get into the situation they are currently in. Two huge talents, whose personalities have been dramatically mismanaged since 2011. Both have released books in which they report the strains between each other, hopefully what we are seeing now is the bottom of the pit & things can improve.
There’s a danger that if the expectations of riders are not seen to be managed correctly, then Sky will only attract a certain type of talent. The ambitious young riders may stay clear & seek other teams to learn their craft, left with the mid to late career riders seeking a payout rather than glory, remember that team the Texan was on, with him & a bunch of old guys on good salaries. Nobody wants to see that happen to Sky, but the kind of public ‘bust-ups’ that we’re seeing now are only going to turn the team in one direction.
Sky need to offer opportunities, realistic ones to all their riders. Riders need to share leadership roles during the season, could their classics seasons be an example of how this is something seriously lacking, maybe their riders simply don’t know how to lead a team due to having never had to? Various riders have commented on that, including Ian Stannard in Rouleur last year, they need opportunities & team support, not just in maintaining wattages to burn off the competition, but to win when others are individually stronger than yourselves. We generally call this ‘tactics’, something which are generally absent from the best performing events for GB at the Olympics. Brailsford tends to call this ‘not able to control’, what he means is he doesn’t know how to control it if it’s not based on simply having more watts than the next guy.
The Gist Of It
There’s a danger that Froome is going to hated by the UK public when the Tour arrives in the UK if this continues in the press. This isn’t correct, I think the venom is aimed at the wrong target, the target isn’t necessarily Dave Brailsford, but a team’s ethos, projected image, lack of experience & poor management. They’ve made a series of blunders which have led to the extreme measures both riders have taken to try & protect their positions. I do have faith that Brailsford can pull this back if he’s given the opportunity, I think he’s a man who can learn from mistakes, losing Wiggins may be his saviour, it may also be Wiggins, allowing him to fulfill his potential, which is still huge. Sky are left with a potential multiple grand tour winner & a wealth of talent, if used wisely & nurtured correctly, then it can flourish across events outside just the major stage races. They also need to reconfigure their staff recruitment policies & get some (maybe just the one) big-ego hard liners in to sort out any future conflicts, I wonder how much Bernard Hinault is charging these days for conflict negotiation duties.