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Words/Images: James Startt
Just a year ago, the familiar catchword at Team Sky’s early-season training camp was “hungry.” After all the one-time world-beaters had taken a severe thrashing in 2014 and they were desperately looking for the key to new found success. But after a stellar 2015 season, one where team leader Chris Froome scored another impressive victory in the Tour de France, the catch phrase at this year’s camp could easily be, “What’s for desert?”
Instead, while the team is bursting with confidence, they also appear focused on repeating such success. “I really look forward to this point in the year,” Froome said while chatting with the press after the day’s ride. “I just love the vibe. There is an excitement that surrounds this time of year. Everyone is excited, the riders, the staff. Nobody knows what to expect. But everyone feels that they are ready for something great.”
Froome of course, has ample reason for such optimism. Not only did he erase many doubts with his return to the top in the Tour de France, but he is still reveling in the euphoria that only fatherhood can bring. “Everything is great in both my personal and professional life. Plus I just re-signed with the team until 2018, so now I can just focus on the racing.”
While Brailsford is also brimming with optimism, there is an added tinge of caution to his confidence. Certainly the memory of the disastrous 2014 season still reverberates. After two back-to-back Tour de France victories, the team seemingly imploded. Now that the team has re-found its winning ways, he wants to assure that they do not lose the plot once again. “A team’s dynamic is in constant flux. I have to invest a lot of time feeling things out, understanding the ever-changing needs of individuals and groups. Just because you know what it takes to win doesn’t mean you can do it automatically. In this sport you spend a lot more time losing. In this game you can get your ass kicked at any time. As soon as you think you know what you are doing, watch out!”
As they do every year, the team begins with their early-season camp in at the Vanity Golf Hotel in Alcudia, on the northern coast of Mallorca. At face value, many things remain the same. The bikes are still the same and the team kits are only slightly different than in year’s past.
Brailsford, however, is well aware that each year presents new challenges. But he also understands that one of best ways to respond to such challenges is by constantly presenting new goals. While Sky clearly knows how to win the Tour de France, they have yet to win a major classic. Winning a “monument” is just one of Brailsford’s top goals for 2016. And he has hired 2014 World Champion Michal Kwiatkowski, to achieve such goals. “One-day racing pedigree,” is how Brailsford describes the talented 25 year old. And of course 2016 is an Olympic years, something especially close to the hearts of this British team after the success of the 2012 Games in London.
Now make no doubt about it. While the team remains one of the winningest teams in the sport of cycling, their hunger remains intact.