Team Sky boss David Brailsford was out defending himself today against claims that his regime at Sky was “brutal” and driven by “machismo.”
While you can argue that sometimes he’s not a nice guy and that he’s condescending and manipulative (especially with the press), there’s no arguing with the race results. Under his leadership and direction, Sky has won four of the last five Tour de France editions.
He said he had no regrets and wasn’t changing his approach and if some people didn’t like the high bar, the extra pressure and the elevated expectations, they should find another job someplace else.
Brailsford, like most hard-core, type A leaders, has his faults. However, losing isn’t one of them and basically you only have to look at the opposite approach to see the downside. Brailsford isn’t running a French team where things are laissez-faire and the wins are few and far between.
Brailsford summed it up nicely: “We started off as a British team who were second rate — nowhere in the world, attitude of gallant losers — and we thought, ‘Actually, no. Why can’t we be the best in the world?”
There you have the difference in methodology. The French adore the talented loser, the perpetual second place, the panache of 23rd place on GC.
Brailsford is not running a popularity contest; he’s in the leg breaking business and wants his guys to do the most femur shattering. We love the prickly and iconoclastic charm of FDJ’s Marc Madiot but there’s no way in Hell that Thibaut Pinot wins Le Tour with that group of disorganized slackers.
“To be the best in the world, you have to set some standards. You’ve got to have some ambition. And then you’ve got to be pretty full on in terms of making sure those standards are achieved,” said Brailsford. You would never put the words “full on” and FDJ in the same sentence. This is cycling at two different speeds, philosophically speaking.
For some people at Sky the approach may have felt brutal but Brailsford doesn’t feel there was anything mean-spirited. ‘We had a brand-new team with no experience of doing it. That was full on but I don’t think I was vindictive, I don’t think I was biased, I don’t think I was malicious. I don’t think I treated people wrongly.”
We never had many opportunities to interact with Brailsford but did interview him a half dozen times over the course of the 2014 Tour of California won by Sky’s Bradley Wiggins. When I asked the easy and generic questions, he was charming and friendly. When I asked anything outside the box or pushed on whether Wiggins had done enough to make the TDF squad supporting Chris Froome, he was not friendly or charming. I had the sense he was irritated, dismissive and that I was wasting his extremely valuable and highly scheduled time.
That’s not an massive indictment. But I could easily see the testy side of Brailsford. You can also find that behavior in any time-crunched CEO with lots of bigger fish to fry. Team Sky has their own massive communications machine and what some writer for Cycle Sport or Velonews needs for a story is low on the priority list.
Brutal? It’s a results business. Try the stressful conditions at Amazon where they work people to exhaustion but give them tons of resources and ownership. Some people thrive in that environment, some want a more relaxed pace and the chance to see their spouse and kids. When you run a machine on analytics, lots of people won’t measure up.
The French just enacted some government decree in an attempt to protect people from the incessant 24/7 crush of work emails at home in the evening. Not everybody is a workaholic and full-on.