Britain on verge of becoming a cycling nation, claims Brailsford

Team Sky cyclist Chris Froome at Rudding Park Hotel near Harrogate, before he tries out Stage 2 of the Tour de France in Yorkshire. (Picture: Tony Johnson)
Team Sky cyclist Chris Froome at Rudding Park Hotel near Harrogate, before he tries out Stage 2 of the Tour de France in Yorkshire. (Picture: Tony Johnson)
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Sir Dave Brailsford believes next weekend’s Tour de France Grand Depart in Yorkshire will be an occasion in which Britain finally becomes a cycling nation.

The Team Sky chief made the proclamation yesterday when naming his team for the Tour de France, which, ironically, contains only two Britons and is minus Sir Bradley Wiggins, the most famous cyclist these shores have produced in a generation.

Yet Brailsford is confident that a sport enjoying a boom in this country can overcome the absence of its superstar and take on even greater resonance next weekend.

Part of the reason cycling has moved into the mainstream is because of the success of Wiggins on the track and on the road, but Brailsford believes it can blossom without him as the Tour de France begins in Yorkshire next weekend.

Brailsford, who himself has accelerated British cycling past continental counterparts it lagged behind for years, said: “It has been a golden decade for cycling.

“Bradley Wiggins lies at the heart of a lot of that success, and although he has not been selected for this race he is still a key member of Team Sky and a great champion.

“The last time the Tour came to Britain (2007) it helped sow the seeds for what eventually became Team Sky.

“Everyone should be immensely proud of how far we’ve come and we can’t wait to ride in front of the UK fans.

“I believe that this will mark the moment when Britain truly becomes a cycling nation.”

The continued success of Chris Froome in the Tour de France will only continue that increased interest in the sport.

By no means as charismatic as Wiggins – who has the aura of a troubled genius about him – Froome’s inner drive and calm persona are what makes him an ideal leader for Team Sky as they chase a third straight Tour de France title just six years after starting out in professional road racing.

The rift that exists between the two stars meant that there was not room on the nine-man team for the two of them.

Wiggins’s absence has been speculated upon for some time, with the 2012 champion fanning the flames a month ago when he went on television to get his side of the story in first.

Despite also suggesting his future in road cycling may lie away from Team Sky, Brailsford said yesterday that Wiggins still has a future with the British squad.

“Bradley is going to miss out, but this is one race, there’s still the future, he’s a great champion and there’s a lot more racing in Bradley Wiggins,” said Brailsford.

“He’s a great champion and he’ll continue to be a great champion. There’s still a future for Bradley, he’s got his eye on Rio and I’m sure he’ll go to the Commonwealth Games (track) and perform very well there.”

On the man he has chosen as team leader, 29-year-old defending champion Froome, Brailsford says he has the perfect stage-race cyclist.

“He can time-trial, he can climb, and it’s the combination of being one of the world’s best climbers and one of the world’s best time-triallers that makes him such a potent force.

“He’s got a brilliant, winning mentality and he’s a good leader. There’s no doubt about it in my mind that he’s the leader of this team for this year’s race and everything will be going in to support Chris.”

Two Yorkshireman also missed out on Sky’s selection but, in truth, Rotherham sprinter Ben Swift, 26, and Leeds prospect Josh Edmondson, 21, have known and accepted for some time that they did not have the requisite attributes and experience to support Froome over three weeks of a grand tour.

So it is left to double Olympic gold medallist on the track Geraint Thomas and Australian super-domestique Richie Porte to provide the main assistance to Froome.

The rest of the team comprises Mikel Nieve, Bernhard Eisel, Vasil Kiryienka, David López, Danny Pate and Xabier Zandio.

Brailsford said: “I picture a champion on the top step of the podium on the Champs Elysees and then I work back from there.

“We know how hard it is to win this race and that it takes a totally focused and carefully constructed team, with the right blend of riders, to give us the best chance of victory.

“Each rider has been selected to play a specific role, which will involve total sacrifice and commitment to the team’s ambition of reaching the Champs Élysées in yellow.

“In tackling the difficult challenge of selecting this team, we have stuck to a performance-first philosophy which has bought us considerable success, firstly at British Cycling and then with Team Sky, for more than a decade.

“Given the number of talented riders in Team Sky this approach has inevitably lead to some very tough decisions – however it’s crucial to remain totally focused on the desired outcome and we’re racing to win.”

On Porte, Brailsford added: “Porte has been Chris’s lieutenant for a number of years. He’ll win a grand tour in his own right one year and whose to say that won’t be this Tour de France the way the tactics go.

“But he’s reliable, a brilliant climber and he was so good for Chris in last year’s Tour.

“Richie is one of the easiest selections and he’ll be a team leader one day. He’s developing all the time.”

Thomas is the youngest rider on the team at 28, with the average age of this Sky squad being 31.7 years.

Thomas was the youngest in the whole peloton when the Grand Depart was in London seven years ago.

Brailsford said: “Geraint is blessed because he’s so good at everything; he can climb, he can time-trial, he can work on the flat, he can ride on the cobbles, he can pretty much do everything.

“He’s a dream to have on a team. If you want commitment and suffering, this is your man.

“Geraint fractured his pelvis in last year’s Tour and still finished the race.

“That says everything about him.”