Photo: GETTY IMAGES
An early-morning promenade down the Mall, flashing bulbs and cameras everywhere, foreign journalists demanding instant translations, this was Britishcycling moving into new territory – and the madness has only just begun. A new decade, appropriately enough, is starting with an odyssey that could become one of the biggest sports stories of the years ahead.
Not untypically for a team who have already delighted in springing the occasional surprise, Team Sky produced a final rabbit from the hat to mark the occasion, announcing the last ditch signing of outstanding British prospect Ben Swift, 23. He has been racing with Katusha and had another year to go on his contract until the wealthy Russian outfit were made an offer over the weekend that even they could not refuse.
Barring Mark Cavendish, whom Columbia-HTC would not trade for all the tea in China, Sky’s team principal, Dave Brailsford, has managed to assemble just about every British road racer capable of competing competitively, on one form or other, at the highest level.
That is eight in total – in a team of 27 – a percentage he hopes will grow steadily as outstanding youngsters earn their spurs and are fed into the system.
Following on from the high-profile and costly recruitment of Bradley Wiggins as team leader from Garmin last month, Swift’s signing sent out another loud message to opponents across the world. New kids on the block they may be but Team Sky intend to be big players from the off, a team to reckon with from their opening race at the Tour Down Under in Adelaide in less than two weeks time.
And why not? British sport generally has a new found confidence and Britain’s cyclists have been at the forefront of that with their eight Olympic gold medals in Beijing. Brailsford and his backroom team believe that winning culture can be transferred from one branch of the sport to the other.
Sean Yates certainly sees it that way having recently signed on for Sky as adirecteur sportif. “Some people think that we are going to ease our way into racing on the Pro-Tour and in the Grand Tours but they are wrong,” insists Yates, who completed 10 Tours de France, nurtured the young Lance Armstrong, taught him how to ride down mountains and then acted as one of his directuer sportifs during the glory years. “Having now seen the quality of people involved first hand – riders and backroom staff – we will be hitting the ground running.
“Winning the Tour will be a massive and difficult thing but I think we have got as much chance in the first year as the fifth. If you have a strong team leader, prepare right and everybody plays their part you have always got a chance.
“At the moment Alberto Contador is the strongest rider in the world, no question, but he has not got as strong a team as he had last year.
“Lance is a year older and I don’t believe he will get any stronger, he will at best retain the form and fitness of last year. Andy Schleck can get better, Levi Leipheimer will be racing again after injury and he is quality and Bradley Wiggins can definitely improve and we will have a strong team riding for him all the way. I don’t know Brad well yet but I see a Tour winner in him.”
“Knowing Lance so well and Johan Bruyneel who has helped him to all his Tour titles I can tell you this: Team Sky are well and truly on their radar. When I worked with them at Astana last year the rider they were most worried about was Brad Wiggins because they could see his untapped potential.
Wiggins, the three-time Olympic gold medallist who finished fourth in the Tour last year, was playing things down. “It takes a great team to win a big Tour. This time last year there were no expectations on me, I was just worried about losing a few pounds and getting competitive for the Paris-Nice prologue, doing a few decent rides in the Giro [d'Italia]. I wasn’t even the team leader at Garmin. It worked for me, I want to keep thing low key.”
That could be difficult Bradley!
Where to see Team Sky in 2010
Jan 17-24: Tour Down Under. 31: GP Cycliste la Marseillaise.
Feb 3-7: Etoile de Besseges. 7-12: Tour of Qatar. 14-19: Tour of Oman. 20-21: Tour du Haut Var. 21-25: Vuelta a Andalucia. 27: GP dell’Insubria-Lugano. 27: Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Elite. 28: Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne. 28: GP di Lugano.
March 3-7: Tour of Murcia. 6: Strade Bianche Eroica. 7-14: Paris-Nice. 10-16: Tirreno Adriatico. 20: Milan-San Remo. 22-28: Tour of Catalunya. 27-28: Criterium International.
April 4: Tour of Flanders. 5-10: Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco. 7: Scheldeprijs. 11: Paris-Roubaix. 18: Amstel Gold Race. 21: La Flèche Wallonne. 25: Liège-Bastogne-Liège. 27-May 2: Tour de Romandie.
May 8-30: Giro d'Italia.
June 2-6: Tour of Luxembourg. 6-13: Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré. 12-20: Tour of Switzerland. 16-20: Ster Elektrotoer.
July 3-25: Tour de France.
Aug 1-7: Tour of Poland. 4-8: Vuelta a Burgos. 18-22: Tour of Ireland. 22: GP Ouest France-Plouay. 28-Sept 19: Vuelta a España.
Sept 10: GP Cycliste de Quebec. 11-18: Tour of Britain. 30: World Championship time trial.
Oct 3: Paris-Bourges. 10: Paris-Tours. 16: Tour of Lombardy.
Team Sky in full
Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Norway) age 34
John-Lee Augustyn (S Africa) 23
Michael Barry (Canada) 33
Edvald Boasson Hagen (Norway) 22 (world ranked 6)
Sylvain Calzati (France) 30
Kjell Carlstrom (Finland) 33
Dario Cioni (Italy) 34
Steve Cummings (GB) 28
Russell Downing (GB) 31
Juan Antonio Flecha (Spain) 32 (ranked 58)
Chris Froome (GB) 24
Simon Gerrans (Australia) 29 (ranked 25)
Mat Hayman (Australia) 31 (ranked 95)
Greg Henderson (New Zealnd) 33 (ranked 109)
Peter Kennaugh (GB) 20
Thomas Lovkvist (Sweden) 25 (ranked 55)
Lars-Petter Nordhaug (Norway) 25
Serge Pauwels (Belgium) 26 (ranked 178)
Nicolas Portal (France) 30
Morris Possoni (Italy) 25
Ian Stannard (GB) 22
Chris Sutton (Australia) 25 (ranked 207)
Ben Swift (GB) 23
Geraint Thomas (GB) 23
Davide Vigano (Italy) 25 (ranked 113)
Bradley Wiggins (GB) 29 (ranked 39)