Brailsford quest for ‘Holy Grail’ begins at SJA lunch

Dave Brailsford, the performance director of British Cycling, six weeks out from the Beijing Olympics, refused to give a Games medal target today. But Brailsford was prepared to make a prediction going six years or more ahead which involves delivering what he called “the Holy Grail” for cycling in Britain: “I want to win the Tour de France for the first time with a clean British rider.”

Brailsford’s plans foresee a British team competing in the Tour de France, cycling’s premier annual event, from 2010.

Brailsford delivered his exclusive at a special lunch in the City of London organised by the Sports Journalists’ Association and attended by nearly 30 members and guests, drawn from the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, the Sunday Mirror, The Guardian, the Independent on Sunday and AFP, among others.

“It’ll be a British team, British-managed, British-owned and everything would be British about it,” he said.

“We’ve got the talent to do anything we want, just like any nation. I think we can perform at any level.”

Brailsford repeatedly spoke in football terms, stating that he wanted his team – funded with at least £6 million-worth of commercial sponsorship each year – to be a Premier League outfit from the outset, “and we’re talking in terms of a top four team”.

His team will comprise of several of the leading members of his present Olympic squad, which in Beijing in August will be out to match the nine gold medals won at this year’s world track championships in Manchester.

Brailsford sees Mark Cavendish, the Manxman who won two stages on this year’s Giro d’Italia, as “the Wayne Rooney of cycling… one of the key characters in the sport in the next 10 years”.

Geraint Thomas, Brailsford says, “has the class of a Liam Brady, when he used to have time on the ball, to have vision”.

The Tour team would enhance, rather than detract from, Britain’s medal chase at the 2012 London Olympics, Brailsford said. “If it doesn’t, then I wouldn’t be doing my job,” he said. “This is what we’d be doing anyway if we want to win the men’s road race gold medal in 2012.”

He has set his launch date on 2010 to be able to offer fully professional contracts to his chosen riders. “Peter Keen, my predecessor, and I have both been criticised in the past as just being interested in track events, not the ‘real’ pinnacle of the sport.

“But after the Grand Depart was staged in London last year, one of the findings was that the only thing that might have made the event better would have been to have a British team competing for the home crowd to identify with and support.

“Now the time is right, the planets are in alignment, we are blessed now with some fantastic young riders, and we can pursue the Holy Grail to win the Tour de France with a British rider.”

‘Significant income’
Brailsford has consulted business figures and analysts in the City over the past six months to draw up his blueprint. “We need significant input from the commercial sector to pay the guys’ wages,” Brailsford said, though he believes his team will have a head start because of the engineering and technical work that Lottery-funded bike engineers and coaches, like Chris Boardman, the 1992 Olympic gold medallist, have done at British Cycling’s headquarters in Manchester.

“I want to change the way cycling teams are branded, so that a child can support a team like he or she might support a football club, growing up with the team. The sponsors and commercial backers might change, but the team brand would stay the same.”

Brailsford said he is close to sceuring sponsors’ backing, helped because cycling is now fashionable among many leading City figures: “Cycling’s the new golf,” Brailsford said.

“I see us winning stages in the first year,” he said. “It will take four or five years to get to the stage where we are able to win the Tour.”

One thing Brailsford has not yet arranged is the team name, though he conceded that “Team Britain” was a strong possibility.

The SJA’s next Olympic lunch is on July 23, with the BOA’s Lord Moynihan. Click here for details of how to book

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