Dave Brailsford: The man who put the wheels in motion

In this year of all years, the BBC’s Sports Personality evolved into a microcosm of the glut of glory, which was pervasive during the last twelve months.

In this year of all years, the BBC’s Sports Personality evolved into a microcosm of the glut of glory, which was pervasive during the last twelve months. This annual epicentre of self-lauding was lengthier, brasher and more breathtaking than any of its previous incarnates, in a manner which mirrored the prosperity witnessed in what was a mammoth year of sport for Great Britain. With the ceremonial worshipping and decorating of the icons that gilded our 2012 supremacy, the show became a befitting garland to our reign of terror on the sporting plains.

Yet behind all the pomp and self-serving fanfare was a message of humility from the heroes who stole our hearts. Predominantly, the orations made, read like a transcript of timidity; no one from Bradley Wiggins to Andy Murray seemed prepared to express accountability for their own successes. Olympic mastermind Lord Coe admitted he’d “been helped along the way by some incredible people”, before eulogising his parents; our Brad waxed lyrical over the virtues of cycling as a team sport, whereas Victoria Pendleton spoke warmly of these anonymous “behind-the-scenes” folk that make achievements graspable.

On reflection, it was only a wonder that Wiggins didn’t hurl his trophy into the masses in a fit of stubborn selflessness.

With the primacy of collaboration and kinship articulated by all that graced the stage inside London’s Excel Arena, it was apropos that a self-sacrificing, team manager was anointed ‘Coach of the Year’.  No one man embodies the notion of the supportive, father figure as much as the unassuming Dave Brailsford does. In a bind this year, Brailsford’s calculating psyche has been left threadbare after juggling the dual pursuits of orchestrating Team Sky’s continental dominance of Le Tour, in conjunction with plotting the Team GB Track Team’s courting of gold.

Needless to say, year-long, his stoicism betrayed no hint of agitation as he thoroughly excelled in both departments.

To enter the world of Dave Brailsford is to subject yourself to an existence of number-crunching, ego-massaging and press placating. It is easy to pigeonhole his character, that of the clinically obsessive, driven only by the next fix of success. His management technique is an extension of his favoured aphorism, “the aggregation of marginal gains”; one, which he has imparted frequently and to an extent, has become synonymous with. In layman’s terms, numerable small improvements translate to a winning gain.

In 2009, he was the catalyst behind the formation of the revolutionary, Team Sky, cycling brigade. The brainchild of Dave and head coach Steve Sutton, their raison d’être was headstrong and unequivocal; it was time to deliver a British victor of the planet’s most punishing bike race.

Immediately, it was evident to onlookers that Brailsford’s perfectionist approach was afoot. The Team Sky cyclists would roll out at events as a fleet of space-age cosmonauts. Every nuance of cycling had been pored over; from their seating profile, to their sheet Black aerodynamic skinsuits, not a stone was left unturned. If Brailsford was not confined by the mandate of sleep, I am convinced he would have devised wheels more circular.

Whilst other pro- teams lacked the financial clout of the Team Sky empire, the seemingly uncapped funding still had to be utilised prudently by Brailsford. It has brought the squad access to the eminent technology of the hour, wielded to hasten their ascent to the summit of the sport. Training is no thoughtless excursion for riders such as Wiggins and Chris Froome, rather it is a flurry of VO2 output machines, regimenting reconnaissance of future routes, and the simplification of effort to the attainment of wattages. As a graduate of Exercise and Sports Science, the Sky set-up represents a veritable playground for Brailsford.

A stickler for ingenuity, he has even coined a payroll in which riders are remunerated in accordance with their projected ability. The rationality of the Team Sky analysts says that future performance is a medium to be ascertained on the axis of a graph.

However, fulfilling desired outputs can detract from the mystique of cycling for most riders, so Team Sky has been sure to treat their charges as humans not robots. Perhaps this is where Brailsford’s other uncanny aptitudes have come into their own. He is a professor of man management, on a plane shared by luminaries such as Sir Alex Ferguson and Sir Clive Woodward. All three sense when to be understanding, and when to exercise their wrath. Brailsford may be broadly more docile, and is not acquainted with the punitive potential of the hairdryer, but his conscientious handling of people sources great respect from his peers.

Back in 2004, when Scot David Millar was left stricken in a Biarritz cell overnight, on account of doping charges, only one loyal friend thought to collect the disgraced World Champion when morning broke. As head of Team GB cycling, Brailsford must have been certifiable to associate with the fallen idol, but dismissing the risk of besmirching his own reputation he listened to the contrite Millar. He sheltered him, found him legal advice, and detected the complicity of Millar’s unscrupulous Cofidis management in his downfall.

Now in 2012, Millar is a revered, reformed figurehead of professional cycling, who speaks candidly on the EPO-fuelled era of the sport; he has bore revelations and resolutions that have helped remedy the cancers of cycling, revelations that were fathered by Brailsford’s keen judgement of character. It is anecdotes like this which attest to a personality far more multi-faceted than the linear analyst he is sometimes painted as.

Similar inviolable ideals form the backdrop to Team Sky’s overarching morality.  A zero-tolerance policy towards performance enhancing drugs has been upheld since the inception of the British unit. Even now, in the aftermath of the Lance Armstrong saga, Team Sky enrols itself as the torchbearers in the fight against doping by staging rigorous interviewing of current staff members to shine light on any shady pastimes that may have once be engaged in. No prisoners are taken; only two months ago acclaimed coach Bobby Julich was remorselessly evicted from the fold after admitting the wilful use of EPO in the mid-nineties, despite a thriving tenure with the team.

In all, it is the conflation of these galvanising attributes and virtues that enabled Brailsford to play puppetmaster to a glorious stable of two-wheeled tyrants in 2012. Whether it was as the calming voice in Bradley Wiggins earpiece on the Col du Madeline, or the diplomatic influence that primed Team GB Track Team assets such as Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton and Jason Kenny for their respective triumphs

Ten track cycling Olympic golds, allied with the coronation of a British Tour winner on the Champs-Elysees at attempt ninety-nine: Brailsford has proved a resounding deliverer.

In a year when Lance Armstrong’s ‘mind over matter’ dogma was exposed as debased smoke and mirrors, Brailsford reminds us that inexplicable hard graft can be honest. Ever-inquisitive, ever-striving – the BBC’s Coach of the year is the real deal. Visibly stirred by his public consecration, the typically phlegmatic orchestrator has earned the right to feel contented. But beware, never complacent, the lead architect of our unforgettable 2012, will be, at present, sketching grand visions for an all-conquering 2013.