Olympics: Cycling guru shaping as colossus of Games

By Dylan Cleaver

Dave Brailsford. Photo / AP.
Dave Brailsford. Photo / AP.

Even on tippy toes, Dave Brailsford could nestle into Sam Whitelock's armpit, but he looms as one of the towering figures of these Games.

With a chrome dome and an undemonstrative mien, Brailsford could pass as a velodrome volunteer rather than the brains behind the world's most dominant cycling programme.

His is a CV that needed little burnishing, but Sky's ownership of the recently completed Tour de France added another layer of sheen. First and second in the general classification, through Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome respectively, he also looked on as his sprint ace, Mark Cavendish, won the final stage on the Champs Elysee.

Brailsford's legendary attention span will now focus on a Great Britain takeover of the Olympic disciplines - bad news for those wanting to challenge Britain's pre-eminence, including New Zealand.

The Welsh-speaking former pro cyclist, 48, who has a sports psychology and science degree and an MBA, has become the master of wringing every drop of inspiration out of his athletes.

He's also hard-nosed. A member of the New Zealand contingent recalled a chance conversation with Brailsford in which he said that if an athlete wasn't ranked in the top three they were removed from the high-performance programme and sent back to development.

"Top three in Britain?" the New Zealander asked. "No, top three in the world," was Brailsford's reply.

How did Great Britain turn itself from an also-ran to the best? It all comes back to Brailsford's now famous catchphrase, "the aggregation of marginal gains". It means that every aspect of cycling, whether human or mechanical, could be improved by 1 per cent. Add up all those 1 per cents and you get quantum leaps.

That improvement has been quantifiable. When Brailsford took over as performance director in 2001, Great Britain had won two cycling golds in the previous three Olympics. At Athens they won two golds, in Beijing they took over, winning eight.

They would be shattered if they didn't return a similar haul here.

New Zealand want to win medals here, but have sensibly targeted Rio de Janeiro as their breakout Games. By that time, high-performance director Mark Elliott's 1 per centers might have had more chance to catch up to the Welshman's.

- NZ Herald

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