‘The Sir Alex of cycling’, Dave Brailsford plots eighth Tour title

PARIS (AFP) – Tough, unsentimental and dominant in cycling for more than a decade, Dave Brailsford wielded his axe ahead of the Tour de France this week and was then compared by one of his earlier victims to former Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson.

Brailsford is the mastermind behind both British cycling’s massive Olympic gold haul, and a staggering seven Tour de France titles in the past eight years, first with Sky and now under the name of the Ineos Grenadiers.

The 56-year-old began his run clinching the 2012 Tour de France with Team Sky’s Bradley Wiggins, who he had already guided to multiple Olympic gold medals.

But jaws dropped the following season when Brailsford axed his popular star in favour of the shy but determined Chris Froome.

For the 2020 Tour, Brailsford again took out his cleaver as he dropped Froome, who has four titles, and his other British star Geraint Thomas who won in 2018 and was runner up last year.

Once again Brailsford put his hopes in a young in-form rider, in this case the defending champion Colombian 23-year-old Egan Bernal.

“He manages Ineos like Sir Alex Ferguson,” Wiggins said comparing Brailsford to the man who led soccer’s Manchester United to 13 Premier League titles.

“Egan is clearly the man now,” Wiggins said on his podcast this week.

“But if Bernal is clearly the man they are putting their money on he’s told the other guys, and found fresh challenges for them,” Wiggins said.

Thomas has been named as Ineos captain for the Giro d’Italia and Froome at the Vuelta a Espana.

“They want to win all three Grand Tour in a single year,” Wiggins suggested.

This kind of ambition comes as no surprise for the Brailsford, who introduced the concepts of ‘Mission Clarity’ and ‘Marginal Gains Strategy’ to cycling.

‘Mission Clarity’ means the team ignores stage victories at the Tour and focuses solely on winning the general classification.

Bernal, for example, only took the yellow jersey on stage 19 of 21 in 2019.

Marginal gains has become a little more controversial.

“If you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by one per cent you’ll get a significant increase,” Brailsford explained.

Applying it to tactics, technology, communications, health and psychology the team overstepped the line according a British government committee who described some of their prescription drug use as unethical.

The inquiry came after leaked reports of so called TUE’s, therapeutic use exemptions, in this case cortisone injections for asthma.

While the inquiry cast a cloud over British cycling and Team Sky’s achievement, no legal lines were crossed.

His run at the top continues on Saturday as the 2020 Tour de France embarks from Nice over two months late with Ineos again the team to watch

“We’ve been looking at how we think we can win this race,” said the fluent French speaker who grew up in Wales.

“We’ve got some ideas about maybe a slightly different approach,” he said. “We’ve got a good game plan and we think that these are the guys to deliver.”

“The decision we’ve come to, and what we’re very excited about, is that we’re going to get Egan and Richard (Carapaz) to target yellow,” Brailsford said when unveiling his Tour roster.

Wiggins had a simple analysis.

“Winning has become their norm,” said the man who got it all rolling back in 2012.