Danny Hall Column: Always F-roome for improvement under Sir Dave Brailsford’s Team Sky reign

Team Sky's Chris Froome celebrates winning the 2015 Tour de France
Team Sky's Chris Froome celebrates winning the 2015 Tour de France
  • This year’s Tour de France had doping and racism scandals, with Chris Froome assaulted on the route
  • Team Sky chief Sir Dave Brailsford was ready to fight spectators if they attacked his convoy
  • Brailsford reveals interesting insight into his way of thinking, admitting defeat drives him on

For an experienced team of professionals used to travelling thousands of miles every year, it was a particularly uncomfortable six hours.

Sir Dave Brailsford is not a man accustomed to second best. So when his Team Sky encountered a below-par Tour de France in 2014, he demanded answers.

The drive to Paris took six hours. Brailsford, his senior Team Sky staff. No phones. No excuses.

What are we going to do, to turn this around?

“This isn’t good enough,” he told them.

“It isn’t good enough. This isn’t excellence. And excellence is what we are supposed to be all about.”

The 51-year-old, from Derbyshire, says he and his team stripped everything back and redefined what excellence actually means, what is expected in Team Sky.

It was a pain in the a*se, he admits. But that hard work was vindicated on Monday when Chris Froome made history, becoming the first Briton to win two Tour de France titles.

Froome was the third Team Sky star to win le Tour, in four years. They know what excellence is, alright.

Like most successes in sport, it didn’t come easy; there were sacrifices and spats along the way.

Team Sky manager Sir Dave Brailsford during Stage Twenty One of the 2015 Tour de France

Team Sky manager Sir Dave Brailsford during Stage Twenty One of the 2015 Tour de France

But which other sport could cram in two almighty crashes, one of which saw the race leader break his collarbone; a doping scandal surrounding the eventual winner, who was covered in urine and spat on along the way; a rider thrown off the tour for racially abusing another; and the head of the sport’s most successful team removing his watch and glasses, preparing to fight members of the public if needs be?

This is more than just a cycle race.

Brailsford was in the Team Sky convoy climbing up Alpe d’Huez on Saturday: “We thought maybe our windscreen might get smashed,” he says.

“We were half-expecting that and if it had happened we were ready.

Great victories only come through massive defeats. You’ve got to go through those horrific moments if you really want to get to big, big results. If you just want the middle ground, do all right, it’s all okay - that’s not what we want.

Sir Dave Brailsford

“I had my watch off, the glasses were off. I would have stopped and had it out with them.There comes a point, when you get that much abuse, when you have to be ready to do something about it.

“What we went through last year was pretty shocking and we figured it was going to be even worse this year.

“We decided: ‘Right, we are going to have to defend ourselves here’.”

Luckily - for the image of cycling, especially - Brailsford could put his watch and glasses back on. He still couldn’t watch Froome’s final ascent, for fear that his star man would succumb to a chest infection. Greatness can hinge on such moments; Sir Dave Brailsford knows that all too well.

He is, after all, a man driven not by success, but failure. His reaction to his team’s historic victory? “I would like to think it’s business as usual.”

“We’ve won a bike race and we’ll go keep on winning them as much as we can,” he added.

“Yes, we’ve just won the Tour de France. It’s great, but it doesn’t do it for me.

“’I don’t have a firework that goes off inside me like other people do.

“I wish I did, but I don’t.”

Instead, he moves on; learns the lessons, basks briefly in the glory, but looks firmly forward.

The man who transformed British Cycling knows the importance of improvement.

His ‘marginal gains’ philosophy saw Great Britain lead the cycling medal table at both the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games. In the space of 11 years, British cyclists became world champions on 59 occasions.

But still, he strives for more; the little one per cent moments, he says, add up to a lot more.

“Great victories only come through massive defeats.

“You’ve got to go through those horrific moments if you really want to get to big, big results.

“If you just want the middle ground, do all right, it’s all okay - that’s not what we want.”