British Cycling’s Secret Weapon Unveiled

Ed Clancy

The success of the British Cycling team on the track is making many jealous. Today L’Equipe reports the French are wondering just what the secret is, are the British using special ultra-low friction ball bearings in their wheels or perhaps exploiting new theories on energy and power?

If there is a secret technology it is staying hidden. However there’s a special machine which spins and helps give the British team an advantage that other squads don’t have. A lottery draw machine.

Here’s a look at this advantage plus a focus on some of the technological advantages used by the British track cycling team.

Lottery Jackpot
It all begins in the 1990s when a nationwide lottery was created by the British government. A share of the revenue generated was given to a state agency in charge of sports. Funding was allocated to national federations according to performances on the world stage, gold medals in the Olympics translated into golden funding. British cycling had seen Chris Boardman and his nemesis Graeme Obree duel on the track but things got organised. National performance director Peter Keen made the obvious discovery that the velodrome was a gold mine with all sorts of medals up for grabs, compared to just four on the road for the men’s and women’s road race and time trial. In other words, win on the track and you get more funding which means you can win more on the track, a virtuous circle.

Better still, if many in Europe were dominating the road, the track was a relative backwater. In countries with a cycling tradition the road drained the talent away. Before you leap to the comments section, winning on the track wasn’t easy, it’s just that the odds were slightly improved. The British weren’t the first to get this. National sports programmes go back a long way but in recent times the French INSEP school and the Australian Institute of Sport provided the template. In fact later the British even poached some of the Australian staff. We saw the Australians become experts from almost nowhere, whereas the French had a strong pedigree on the track.

The result of this is a British cycling programme funded at £26.39m ($40m / €33m) for the Olympic cycle of 2009-2013 or £6.5 million per year. By contrast the French federation’s annual budget is €15 million ($18.5 m) per year, which covers everything from head office to grassroots programmes as well as the elite programme. USA Cycling’s total budget is $11.8 million, again for everything.

Olympic Bid
Another factor was the bid by the city of Manchester to host the Olympic games. It didn’t win but British Cycling did strike gold: an indoor track, giving Britain a world class facility. A 250m wooden indoor track was vital in a country famed for its damp climate. Symbolically British Cycling moved into offices next to the track. There’s also a complete indoor track in Wales and one is being finished in Scotland too. By contrast France still doesn’t have a comparable facility although there are plans to construct one in Paris. For now the French track riders need thermal clothing for the INSEP track near Paris whilst their British rivals ride in a heated arena. It’s the same for US riders with the Boulder Indoor Cycling track, only 142 metres long… but closed. Now Britain has another track in London.

The System
Like the Australians, most of the best British riders seem to come from the track. Of course their are exceptions like Cadel Evans and Chris Froome but there’s been a lot of money spent on detecting talent and getting it on the track, including paying riders a salary if they are part of the programme. This contrasts with the more traditional approach, from France to the USA and beyond where a talented points or pursuit rider is likely to be a road rider first and then a track rider second.

The French need not be too jealous because the French state lottery, FDJ, sponsors the pro road team and also funds the country’s athletes across a range of sports. The Belgian lottery is similar too. Something hasn’t worked in Australia this time but the system is there to ensure future success. And looking ahead the Russians have made great gains and with their Rusvelo team they are imitating the British, they’ve even poached Heiko Salzwedel who has worked for the Australians and more recently the British.

Nevertheless the British system is similar to the Australian one, a conveyor belt production line of talented riders that are ready-made for Team Sky and Greenedge.

Marginal Gains
Now we can look at the small details that make a difference. Searching for advantage is normal but the British seem to have taken this to a new level. The funding allows for this. Let’s take two examples, clothing and the the bicycle.

First clothing. Aerodynamics is all important in cycling and the human body represents the largest surface area, a long way ahead of wheels or the frame. Position on the bike is vital but once in place, can a rider gain time with better clothing? Of course, you only need to look at the aerodynamic helmets. But if all riders use one piece lycra suits, they are not the same. The choice of fabric matters as does the positioning of the seams and also other factors. In the 1990s the US downhill ski team experimented with wiring in their clothing. Spyder built a suit called “SpeedWyre”, which incorporated a “tripwire” on the surface that reduced aerodynamic drag and created a more streamlined airflow. The aim is to split the airflow as it passes over the clothing. This was banned by the FIS, the governing body of skiing.

Indeed it’s not allowed under the rules of cycling… but the UCI doesn’t seem to have noticed its use in cycling. Look closely at the British clothing and you will see the prominent seam running down the arm, I think the same feature was visible in the custom yellow skinsuit used by Bradley Wiggins during Stage 9 of the Tour de France. Are the British cheating? Well the UCI has apparently approved the clothing but it seems the governing body might not have spotted the technological advantage. There are other details like the fabric itself or look at the unusual length of the sleeves. Either way this clothing is clever but it is also expensive. It takes time and expertise to develop, with practice sessions in the wind tunnel and many iterations in the factory to get it just right. In short it’s expensive.

British track cycling bike

Next we look at the bike. If there’s talk of secret wheels, the frame can’t be hidden. Note the one piece bars and stem with aero profiling. Look closely at the forks too and the unusual width across the crown. The frame itself is custom built for the British team. UCI rules say frames have to be available to buy and in this case you can have a frame if you are prepared to order it, endure an unknown waiting time for delivery and nobody knows the price. The German team have a similar deal with their FES frames.

No pot of gold at the end of the rainbow jersey
Let’s note Britain’s resources are limited. Let’s go back to 2011 track cycling world championships and the British track team rode all the Olympic competitions but shunned the other events like the kilometre time trial and the individual pursuit. Presumably a decision was made not to spend money on competitions that are not included in the Olympics.

What about other sports?
Funding doesn’t always equate to performance. As correspondents on Twitter have suggested, British tennis gets lots of money but is yet to have a winning system, apparently Andy Murray’s success is not the fruit of a systemic approach. The same for British swimming, lots of lottery money but fewer medals. I don’t know these sports but I’d suggest tennis is an individual sport and perhaps Britain is outspent when it comes to swimming? But track cycling is a unique sport where you can measure every variable from a rider’s power output to the drag coefficient of their overshoes. If you can measure something you can improve it.

Whilst the French might wonder about wheels and ceramic ball bearings, surely a 250 metre indoor track and lottery balls count for more?

The funding is no secret. Money does not buy medals but it can buy time in the wind tunnel, it can pay for the development of clothing and bikes that others don’t get. If we can photograph the kit, we can only imagine the resources available for coaching and training. Track cycling is the ideal sport for this process-driven and methodical approach, you can’t measure performance gains in fencing or tennis in quite the same way.

Money can also retain riders for the track programme when they might otherwise head for the road, ask Geraint Thomas. Indeed there’s an overlap between Team Sky and British Cycling that you don’t get elsewhere with the possible exception of Australia and Russia.

Money is necessary for a successful system but not sufficient. But the British model with its focus on the track, its budget and resources is certainly the system that another aspiring nation would look to copy and improve.

117 thoughts on “British Cycling’s Secret Weapon Unveiled”

      • We’ve always had the Colorado Springs outdoor track and a new 250m outdoor one is being built in Erie, Colorado. The Erie one doomed the Boulder one, most likely. We don’t need much heating here, the snow tends to melt fast and we have lots of sunny days.

        Unfortunately, seems like we’ve had too many dry sunny days.

  1. There’s also a 250m wooden track at the Welsh National Cycling centre in Newport which has been open a few years, so the London one isn’t the 2nd. There’s also one just finished for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

  2. Actually the French are already on it. The new indoor track in St Quentin en Yvelines (just west of Paris near Versailles) will include a complex that will be the new headquarters for the FCC. It will open in December 2013.

  3. Britain actually has four 250m indoor velodromes. Manchester; London; Newport in South Wales where the British pursuit team did their final Olympic preparations and the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome in Glasgow completed this year in advance of the 2014 Commonwealth games. There are also plans for a fifth in Derby which is schelduled to open in early 2014.

    • Don’t forget there is also the 160m indoor track at Calshot near Southampton (thermals required). This is the temporary track that was used for the Skol 6Day held at Wembley in the 1970s and which was relocated into an old flying boat hangar.

  4. Here’s what the equipment will cost you.

    Helmet – £3000.
    Road/TT Frame – £7,000
    Road/TT Fork – £3,200
    Pursuit Bars – £4,000
    Seat Post – £800

    Lead time is ~6 months.

    • Sorry but those prices are way out!
      Track Frame £25000
      Forks £11000
      Monocoque pursuit bars £22000-23000
      Hollow Cranks £18000
      Skin suit £13000 (yes the aero seam wire alone is £6000)
      Helmet £6000 (contains custom aluminium honeycomb impact structure)
      God thing they don’t make wheels!

  5. My local council is taking the initiative to spend £20 million at a national level velodrome in Derby. Looks like the London medal haul will help justify their spending.

    British Cycling have also received £1.35 million a year from Sky in sponsorship of a track trade team. Impressive amount of money for relatively little exposure.

  6. What I think must really be getting to the French and the Aussies is the turnaround in performance in a relatively short period just in time for the Olympics – the concept of “peaking” surely cannot explain how, say, Kenny can become so much quicker than Bauge. Likewise, Pendleton seems noticeably quicker than a few months ago. How can they do this? If it was just structure and budget, you would expect them to be noticeably better throughout the cycle (forgive the pun), not just every 4 years.

    I don’t know how they do it, but I love it. Interestingly, Cav and Wiggins seem to be thinking about a return to the track fold for 2016. They all must be a tight-knit bunch and really operate as a team under Hoy’s inspirational leadership and perhaps that is also part of the explanation?

    As an aside, I cannot wait to see if Geraint Thomas and Pete Kennaugh can deliver on the road next year.

    • Tapering/Peaking is something GB have done for a while now so it’s no surprise how good they can be. The academy has many riders who never make it onto the track or the road, very talented people who just can’t break through because they actually are competing with the very best. Jason Kenny being the best example – you can’t question how he can possibly be faster than Baugé when he’s had to beat Chris Hoy into that spot!

      Many have doubted them for the last 2 years because of their strategy (myself inclided), seeing what are supposedly the best track riders in the world finishing 2nd and 3rd in National Championships against non acedemy riders is frustrating, and they always hid behind the excuse that they were exactly where they needed to be – it wasn’t easy to watch as a fan but I’d say they’d done a decent job of saying we told you so! No complaints from me any m0re!

      As for Geraint Thomas, he’s been delivering on the road for the last 2 years 🙂

    • The concept of “peaking” explains EXACTLY how Kenny is faster than Bauge, and how Pendleton is now putting in her fastest times. For the GB cylists, there was no point in being on top form for the Worlds. The Olympics is everything!

  7. The technology is only part of the story, and their attention to detail extends beyond just gear to their organization and preparation. I had the opportunity to observe Team GB at the Paralympic Track World’s earlier this year, and their sophistication was impressive. Coaches and assistants had binders with exact information about each rider’s preparations and cool down, the event schedule, the technical details… everything. Riders didn’t have to worry or even think about anything but riding. They could relax and watch competitions, knowing there was someone else responsible for tracking when their warmup should start, letting them know what intensity to ride, and preparing their gear.

    Those binders also had information on the competition’s performance, and it looked thorough. From what I saw, it appeared to include splits and times from prior competitions, extensive graphs and charts showing accomplishments over time, even what looked like information on the gearing other riders used in each of these events and, tactical/competitive tendencies, and if my guess is right, even projected results. I overheard coaches telling riders exactly what they could expect and preparing them with detailed game plans on when to attack and how hard, all based on observation.

    Mechanics had similar binders with information on exactly what gearing riders would use in every heat and exacting measurements of each rider’s setup. They had schedules as well, letting them know whose bike to work on and when. What they carried with them in crate after crate of equipment was easily double what any other squad had on hand. Their preparation was immaculate.

    Once they were warmed up, a mechanic took their bike to wherever it needed to be, and a coach would escort the rider to their ready area. All the athletes had to do was ride. Compared to other programs in the same pits, the Brits were head and shoulders above the rest. Even their media people were up on the sport, the competition, and had a constant eye for marketable moments.

    An especially interesting aspect of the Paralympics was the additional preparation that went into the prosthetic devices the riders used, especially Team GB. For example, one of their pursuit riders had a purpose-built aerodynamic half-arm with a ball on the end, just above where your elbow would normally be. It mated with a socket on their aero bars. It was elegant and simple, not to mention aero and probably much lighter than a standard prosthesis.

    Team GB looks like a modern Formula 1 team descending on weekend warriors at a local go-cart track. It reminds me of Moneyball, and how the Oakland A’s were pioneering the use of statistics and game theory to maximize results while their competition was still going on gut instinct.

  8. There is a new indoor track being built right next to the outdoor velodrome in Roubaix … very nice looking from the outside, but still in one of the most doggy areas one could imagine …

      • dodgy … that is what I get for posting and running … seriously, the area is crime ridden … even locals I from the area won’t leave a car there for a couple of hours, to dangerous … I’ve had a smash and grab happen there during Paris-Roubaix, along with about 10 other cars.

  9. Another thing to note is that GB Track success has and will only breed more success – Sports England and BOA are quite stringent on continuing and growing funding to successful sports whilst downgrading others i.e it is very likely GB swimming will receive less money for 2016 after less medals than 2008 and missing outlined targets of 5 – 7 medals.

  10. I am told that a British Cycling MK3 track frame, bars, forks and seat post will cost you around £20,000 from the commercial wing of UK Sport

  11. Boardman tonight claimed the wheels are identical to those used back at the Athens games; that the bags are just to keep them clean on the basis that even specks of dirt slow them down.

    Note that the Lottery money aspect is doing wonders across many, many sports in Britain- thi isn’t something unique to cycling.

    • I thought I noticed what appeared to be a modified axle on Kenny’s front wheel. It didn’t look like a standard, solid axle, rather that it had been slotted to allow airflow to go through it front to back.

  12. Great article, as always. Regarding lack of a 250m indoor track in France, isn’t there one in Bordeaux where Chris Boardman set his hour record in 1993? If not, what happened to it?

    Also, the Manchester velodrome opened autumn 1993 but I’ve never been sure it was ever built as a direct result of the city’s 1996 or 2000 Olympic bids. If so, which bid was it linked to? Or was it just a general sporting investment?

    Finally, the first *outdoor* velodrome to be built in the UK since 1962 opened last year in Bournemouth. Tarmac surface, not timber. The cost was £750,000 and it is great facility to begin riding. I was coaching 30 kids there just this afternoon, out in the summer sunshine, many of them first-time track riders.

    • The Bordeaux track is there but it is not used as the national training track.

      As for Manchester, I read it was built as part of the Manchester bid, but as a commitment to say “we will build it whether we win or not”.

      Above all, nice to hear the coaching work, well done.

      • Thanks! I’m really enjoying the track coaching. It’s great to see a busy track full of youngsters just enjoying riding their bikes.

        Odd how the FFC didn’t appropriate the Bordeaux track in the way the old BCF appropriated Manchester to such good effect.

        As for the soon-to-be built Derby velodrome, it can only be called the “Dave Brailsford Arena” – he’s a son of the city, isn’t he?!

      • Thanks! I’m really enjoying the track coaching. It’s great to see a busy track full of youngsters just enjoying riding their bikes. Odd how the FFC didn’t appropriate the Bordeaux track in the way the old BCF appropriated Manchester to such good effect. As for the soon-to-be built Derby velodrome, it can only be called the “Dave Brailsford Arena” – he’s a son of the city, isn’t he?!

      • Thanks! I’m really enjoying the track coaching. It’s great to see a busy track full of youngsters.

        Odd how the FFC didn’t appropriate the Bordeaux track in the way the old BCF appropriated Manchester to such good effect. As for the soon-to-be built Derby velodrome, it can only be called the “Dave Brailsford Arena” – he’s a son of the city, isn’t he?!

  13. I think the reason big cash hasn’t helped British tennis or swimming is that neither are affected as much by equipment. Clothing in tennis makes little difference while the swimsuit tech seems to be equally spread among the rich teams….the brits have no special advantage. But certainly the money spent on equipment can not explain all the success as the US Olympic velodrome program years ago (remember the expensive “Superbikes” n 1996?) proved. There is a beautiful indoor velodrome in southern California near where the concrete track for the 1984 Games was situated.

    • Think most of the tennis money is generated by the LTA itself – mostly from Wimbledon rights – so doesn’t come with the same strings attached as Lottery money

    • Larry – swimming governing bodies dont invest in suit technology! Athletes have an input but it’s left to the brands to do! They are very dated in their approach! Many GBs rebelled against the new Speedo system – simply because it was too much for them to get their tiny little heads round.

      It has nothing to do with rich teams unlike cycling.

      My concern re cycling in the UK is such that while all is rosy at uk cycling hq club cycling is still in the dark ages! Very little infrastructure, lack of coaches and pockets of organised races.

      You can spend all the money you want on gold – but teach a man to fish etc etc…

    • Before I ask my question, let me highlight that I don’t have a clue about tennis or swimming.
      However I do know a thing or two about sport in the UK, and in certain sports (that I am involved in) there is a culture of face fits.
      Therefore my question is; in tennis and swimming could the lack of success be put down to face fits selection over talent where as in cycling its a matter of talent before face fits?

  14. Are multiple “full size” indoor velodromes deemed a high priority for development of world class capability?

    It seems only one proper track exists in the U.S. in Los Angeles. The rest are crappish outdoor tracks, like Trexlertown (home of Marty Nothstein) and the USA Cycling Olympic Training track in Colorado Springs. The defunct “mini” track in Boulder was a real widow maker IMO. So short, and real speed down the straight would provide an easy launch over the side with no safety nets to prevent a fall to the concrete from 6 meters. Yikes. Yanks will continue to pour the major portion of Olympics funding into swimming and gymnastics.

    • World Class programs and World Class facilities are not necessarily one and the same.

      What makes T-Town world class is not the material of the riding surface nor the reputation of it’s architect, but the fact that it has an in depth racing program (and prize lists) that attract top riders from around the world, it is situated in area that is fantastic for road training, and has wonderful grass roots programs as well. With the riders/money comes infrastructure like coaching and training programs.

      One must remember that track cycling at the national/world championships, world cups, and at the Olympics is a different sport than everyday track racing. Normal everyday track meets typically do not have kilo TT, formal match sprint competitions, or pursuits, but have scratch races, miss & outs, unknown distance, points races etc.

      The key is identifying talent at typical facilities (at typical events) around each nation and then nurturing them for specialized disciplines with proper support for performance at world class venues/events. Depending on geographical size, nations can only support relatively few world class facilities (they are expensive to build and run). And if one only competes at the best facilities all of the time, how will they perform in less than ideal conditions?

      As for the Boulder Velodrome being a widow maker, I can’t peak to its specifics, but there are different tracks for different purposes. Very short tracks are great for high level mass start racing (like 6-Days), whereas long tracks are better suited for time trial events. While a track less than 250m is less than ideal for beginners, they do have their place in their world, and can provide for fantastic racing.

  15. Hmmm. There’s enough rich cycling nuts out there who could easily afford one of those Team GB bikes.

    Be the ultimate piece of one-upmanship when you showed up with it at your local cycling cafe 🙂

  16. Given that money is only as good as the way you spend it and Dave Brailsford is spending it very well perhaps he can take a sabbatical and work for the European Central Bank. A couple of years of marginal gains for the EU economy and we can all be enjoying another property bubble instead of wondering how secure our jobs are…..

    Given that government spend on culture and leisure is normally the first thing to be cut in times of difficulty we’re very lucky that the Lottery has helped fill this gap. Can it be any surprise that a generation of British youth that saw 5,000 school playing fields sold in the 1980’s returned one gold medal at the Atlanta games in 1996.

    • And the sell-off of school playing fields is still going on. This from today’s Guardian:

      “The education secretary, Michael Gove, has approved of the disposal of more than 20 school playing fields since the coalition came to power two years ago, despite a pledge to protect sports pitches from development.”

      So next time we see government ministers showboating and basking in all this Olympic success, we should be suitably inoculated against the stream of PR b/s that will inevitably flow every time they open their mouths.

  17. Seriously, though, I very much doubt the equipment on the bike is a significant factor in the Team GB domination.

    Certainly, it ain’t the bearings in the wheels – from memory, even crappy low-end wheels only lose a couple of watts in bearing friction.

    In any case, I think the Poms have earned the right to have a little less skepticism expressed when they talk about the aggregation of marginal gains.

  18. I’m glad someone noticed the tripwires. I’m shocked they got away with it! There are actually 2 tripwires on the arms, inner & outer. You will also notice that they have tripwires on their shoe covers (also why they are as tall as allowed). During testing we saw comparatively better results on the lower leg (vs arms) …But it is hard to incorporate a full length tripwire without attracting attention from the UCI. But as you surmised, placement is critical, and somewhat individual. We used a template to position & orient the SpeedWyre once the suit was on. Once SpeedWyre was outlawed by FIS, Spyder presented the technology to US Cycling, to see if they had any interest (Since they no longer had any use for the technology in skiing)…As you can guess…it went nowhere, partially due to US Cycling fearing it being outlawed immediately ,ala skiing…and precious funds wasted.

  19. Talking about equipment, why do the sprinters all ride with a disc rear and open front wheel? Surely crosswinds aren’t an issue. Weight? Nah. Must be something I’m missing.

  20. USA – it’s not the same here as it is for the French. We have the amazing ADT Center velodrome, a 250m indoor track that hosted the ’05 World Championships. It’s part of a sports complex in southern california, and it’s AMAZING. Wonderful track.

    Too bad that – as you rightly allude – our national track racing program has no funding. And we used to have one of the best team pursuit squads in the world…

  21. re Olympic success, sports funding and Australia. Here in Oz we have short memories, many apparently thinking that we’ve always dominated (and they trundle out one of the 3 or 4 gold medalists from the previous 60 odd years) yet as you say Australia did help provide the template for team GB (and some staff). 1984. LA Olympics. Australia made the final of the team pursuit. Unheard of, but remember the eastern block boycotted and if they had been racing there is no way Australia would have made the final. We were against the US, favourites, but one rider pulled their foot at the start and so they had to ride the 4K with 3 riders. Australia won. This coincided with targetted funding where Olympic gold = $. This helped kickstart the whole Charlie Walsh Adelaide AIS satellite program, and as the British (and the East Germans earlier) found it is a virtuous circle. Why track? As Brailsford understands, in many events everything is controllable (team pursuit, pursuit, time trial), and outside of that variables are minimal (rarely puncture, no wind or rain, easily measurable and repeatable parameters as always indoor on a track). Road is the big one, but as the Olympic road race demonstrated, trying to manage that is akin to herding cats. Anyway, my point is that Australia’s history in recent track may have looked very different if not for an eastern european boycott AND one US cyclist pulling his foot.

    • Thanks for rubbing salt in an old wound 😉

      The rider was Leonard “Harvey Nitz”, and this proved that one can spend $25k – $40k (reported costs of the “funny bikes” back then funded by the USCF) and still be doomed by the failure of a $12 toe strap… The irony is that Harvey was always very meticulous with his equipment, and as an individual was always working on gaining small advantages that we now refer to as marginal gains.

      • Actually, the rider who pulled his foot out was Dave Grylls. Dave went down right on the start line and the other 3 riders continued. Interestingly, this is another situation where the team should have ‘crashed’ in the first turn to get a restart.

        As Touriste-Routier says, the toe strap was not tight enough to hold Dave’s left foot when he pulled back and up with his left leg during his start.

        • Dooh! You are correct; shocking my memory fails me after 26 years 😉 My apologies to Harvey for incorrectly calling him out, and my sympathies to Dave, who was equally meticulous with his equipment!

  22. The other think Lotto money buys is coaching. A number of the coaching staff which brought Australia success in the lead up to the 2000 games were poached by the UK (including Heiko, via Denmark though I think) with Lotto funds enabling the UK to offer far better remuneration than they could achieve in Australia. And not just cherry picking the best coach, but grabbing coaching depth and new thoughts – like Tim Kerrison who had been a performance coach for Australia in distance swimming and rowing and now is part of Team GB/Sky.

    Though is swimming is anything to go by, Team GB may just be outbid on the coaching front by China. Australian swimming coaches, including the coach of wonder-teen Ye Shewin is rumoured to be getting AUD500,000 in bonuses for delivering her to two gold medals. In a arms-race of funding a China determined to make its mark in all facets of sport will be unlike to be outbid.

  23. Team events, common in track cycling, also favour larger nations like GB.

    This is because (if all other variables are held constant) it’s more statistically likely that a country with a large population base will produce a group (team) of world class athletes at the same than will smaller nations who are more likely to only produce one or two at a time.

    This is also true of swimming, athletics, gymnastics, etc. If Michael Phelps was from Liechtenstien he would have won 7 fewer golds because he wouldn’t have been able to swim in a world class 4-man relay teams.

    • By that argument, the US should be a powerhouse and render GB irrelevant. Yet, no women in the sprint or Keirin and no teams for either men’s or women’s team sprint while smaller nations are able to field full squads. The difference, as others have noted, is talent identification and cultivation, which is non-existent in the US.

      • Correct, which is why I included the proviso “if all other variables are held constant”.

        This is obviously not the case with the US and GB, but compare GB with other smaller countries that have a track cycling culture. For instance medium sized countries like, say Netherlands or Australia, or small ones like, say NZ. These countries have roughly similar levels of wealth and, arguably, broadly similar levels of interest in competitive track cycling (as % of their populations). The point is, even if these countries invested the same amount in their track cycling as GB does, it is still much less likely (not impossible, just less likely on average over time) that they will field 3 man teams in the team events that are as strong as GBs.

        I think this fact just adds to Inner Rings overall point, ie that GB has been very, very smart in targeting its spending to ensure it gets the greatest bang for its buck. To Team GB I say bravo, well played. But to the IOC I say, fewer team events and more individual events please.

  24. The view from downunder….cycling and swimming !

    WHAT’S worse? Getting smashed up by the rest of the world at the Olympics or knowing that Australian coaches are helping them do it?

    Foreign athletes trained by Aussies have won 14 gold medals so far in London – if they could form a nation in their own right they would be fourth on the medal table.

    The Aquatic Centre is where Australia has been bruised. Ken Wood has done his bit to help Chinese wonder kid Ye Shiwen to gold medals, right over the top of defending medley champion Stephanie Rice.

    Denis Cotterell is rumoured to have picked up more than $500,000 with Chinese swimmer Sun Yang’s world-record win in the 1500m and 400m freestyle events, although he refuses to confirm it.

    And Michael Bohl has guided South Korean Park Tae-Hwan to silver medals in the 200m and 400m freestyle.

    Australian coaches are giving Australians black eyes all over London. When our triathlete Erin Densham was beaten in a sprint finish in the women’s triathlon, the two competitors who consigned her to bronze were guided by Aussies.

    In the cycling – both on the road and in the velodrome – Australia’s lack of success has been felt even more acutely because the British are being guided by the cream of our cycling coaches.

    And at the rowing at Eton Dorney Australian paw prints were all over the rejuvenation of British rowing.

    The Australian Olympic Committee finally conceded last night that the coaching drain needs to be stopped.

    “We’ve known it has happened for a long time,” AOC deputy chef de mission Kitty Chiller said.

    “People have looked at what we did and the AIS did before Sydney and they have learnt from that and built on that. Maybe we have just stagnated a little bit. People recognise we’re really good and are taking advantage of it. We need to jump ahead again.”

    Sources on the swim team said there was consternation behind the scenes about Cotterell and Bohl helping other nations because, unlike Wood, they were coaches on the ground with the Australian team in London.

    But Wood pointed to the riches to be earned by coaching swimmers from China: “China pay four times what I get from my Australian swimmers. It would frighten you if I told you the amount.”

    Chiller said: “We can’t deny them a livelihood. By allowing them to coach overseas athletes we are still getting the benefit from them.

    “If we didn’t allow it, we would lose them completely. With the swimming, some of those guys are still coaching within Australia, so they are actually our guys as well – swimming in the lane alongside them.”

    Aussies Shane Sutton and Tim Kerrison are crucial to the British cycling team. Sutton is the personal coach of Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins, who won gold in the individual time trial.

    As head coach of British cycling he also helped guide Victoria Pendleton to victory as she smashed Australian world champion Anna Meares in the keirin final.

    Nicola Spirig, the Swiss who won the triathlon gold medal, is coached by Brett Sutton, who was banned from coaching in Australia. Silver medallist Lisa Norden from Sweden is coached by Australian Darren Smith.

    Rowing coach Paul Thompson was headhunted from Australia on a far superior contract a decade ago and his revolutionary approach ensured the British women made history at their home games as they won gold in the women’s pair, double scull and lightweight double sculls.

    Australia was at the other end of the scale at Eton Dorney, leaving without any gold medals after their men’s four and women’s double scull were both beaten into silver.

    Another Aussie, Tim McLaren, was fundamental to preparing the US women’s eight team and its gold-medal winning performance.

    • True but coaches do operate internationally. Jamie Staff has been coaching the US track sprinters and the British runner Mo Farrar trains in Oregon to give a couple of examples.

      I suppose the really interesting thing here is that as Australia has performed so well over so many sports that will with time result in a comparatively large number of Australian coaches appearing, and they have to work somewhere.

    • Quote from above “Nicola Spirig, the Swiss who won the triathlon gold medal, is coached by Brett Sutton, who was banned from coaching in Australia.”
      Any idea why Brett Sutton was banned?

      • Because of the symbiotic relationship between Team Sky, which has several Aussie riders, and Team GB, such clashes are inevitable. And realistically, Sky, based in Europe, might be better placed physically than GreenEdge for the European season.
        To be honest, it’s only the Olympics where nationalism raises its ugly head. I love it, but I know it’s wrong. I see Australia has finally overtaken Cornwall in the medal table thanks to their great women Anna Meares and Sally Pearson (who was staying with her Auntie Janice and Uncle Dave for a while, so that gold was forged in suburban London). It’s still behind Yorkshire though.

    • Hey but Angus, if it’s bad for Aussies to be beaten by people coached by Aussies, isnt’ it equally galling for other nations to be beaten by people whose national ancestry is the same….e.g GB descended Aussies beating GB born athletes? (comment not made seriously, btw)

  25. Presumably part of the reason for concentrating on track cycling in the 90’s is that the road scene at the time was riddled with drug taking. They couldn’t have won clean whatever they did.

  26. Poland tried to copy English way by building Pruszkow velodrome ( host to 2009 Worlds ). And as hype as it was at opening now it is nothing more but a stone attached to a swimmer’s neck. The swimmer is Polish Cycling Federation and stone is cost of ownership. Firstly huge rate of monthly installments owned to the banks ( even though bank in a main sponsor of federation and title sponsor of arena… ), secondly bills which are now so arrears that medias suppliers threaten to turn electricity and heating off. Ultimately velodrome can’t sustain itself, athletes level hasn’t improved, federation is on the verge of bankrupcy.
    Peter Keen would be surprised how easy it is to spoil recipe for success

    • British Cycling were in a similar situation a few years after Manchester Velodrome opened. Can’t find the details now, but I’m sure the velodrome nearly bankrupted BC at one point before they managed to restructure and turn it around.

    • The same situation doomed the Montreal Olympic Velodrome. At one point it may have been the finest facility in the world, but was dismantled because the operating expenses were far too expensive for anyone to carry, considering the relatively low use. This is why not all facilities need to be world class; to develop a sport, nations need strong grass roots programs with many modest facilities that feed upward (better facilities and infrastructure).

  27. I recall how aerodynamic strips, akin to the speedwyre, were fitted to the suits of Dutch ice-speedskaters in the 1998 Winter Olympics. (placed on the legs and head) Although the benefits were marginal, this caused a frenzy with the competition, who were uncertain about their disadvantage.
    The Dutch got 5 gold medals, 4 silver and 2 bronze medals in speedskating at the Nagano Olympics (out of a total of 10 events)
    The strips were banned in skating in 2007.

  28. Also worth reminding ourselves of Chris Hoy’s remark following his medal haul in Beijing. When asked if he would be defending his 3 titles in London, he said something like “If I’m defending the sprint crown in London 2012 then the coaches won’t have been doing their job poroperly” i.e. we have talent coming through and they should be doing something to nurture it.

    Fair play to coaches for doing that and to Sir Chris for maintaining his own form.

  29. One of the things I’ve found interesting is the number of personal bests (in most cases World Records) that the GB track cycling team have set. They’ve clearly been carefully managed to peak perfectly for this Olympics.

    That’s in stark contrast to GB track and field athletes and swimmers who in a lot of cases haven’t even achieved year best times. That to me seems to be a total coaching failure. Those are sports with specific measurables. Maybe our athletes aren’t as talented as other nations’, maybe other nations are spending more money on those sports, but it seems to me to be inexcusable to have a number of athletes not even give their best performance of the year at the Olympic games, and British Cycling have clearly shown that it doesn’t have to be that way.

    • Absolutely. The athletics and swimming performances are not much short of scandalous, given that they have roughly comparable funding as cycling and rowing.

  30. I think that one of the key things that the money has enabled is much better Talent Identification. Don’t know how cycling does it but for example in Leeds where I live there is a very strong Talent ID programme for diving whereby coaches go into all the primary schools and look at who might be able to be made into a diver in terms of physical characteristics, they are then invited to selection camps and about 15 kids on a 2 year cycle go into the TID programme. One of the first divers on the scheme has this year at 15 just competed in the Olympics and there are plenty more coming through.

  31. In terms of tennis, there was an interview in the Daily Mail that Andy Murray did where he outlined pretty succinctly why the British tennis model, despite its funding and money, has a relatively ineffective system. Note that Murray did not attend the British Tennis Academy when given the opportunity in his teens and instead spent some time in Spain.
    In summary, he uses Spain and Russia as two examples where a plethora of successful tennis players have been produced without the buoy of exorbitant spending. In Spain, funding stops at 18 (In GB you get funded for much longer) and facilities in Russia are pretty much your average tennis courts. Instead, he points to the way tennis is taught, and how there are “10 different nationalities all coaching a different way. If we don’t get the results straight away, we panic and change direction.” Sounds a lot like the English FA actually, but the point is that funding is not everything. As mentioned in previous comments, you don’t need ultra sleek and technological pricy kits. Besides, much of the clothing and equipment that are worn by the players are provided by their sponsors, and large sponsorship deals are much easier to attain in a sport like tennis with relatively large TV coverage and high profile players than track cycling, where almost the only time you’ll ever see on TV is the Olympics and Commonwealth games. In a sport where milliseconds count and everything is about gliding through the air as fast as you can, having the ability to utilise sport science to its optimum level is clearly an advantage. Perhaps that’s why GB are doing so well in the Olympics overall seeing as most Olympic sports are like that – where very minimum gains can bring you very large consequences.

  32. Dave B has assembled a good team around him but as soon as any 1 coach gets too successful he makes sure that they are brought down to earth.

    Those wheels are made by UKSI and re-badged as Mavic according to someone at BC. They may have used Mavics at the games but UKSI have made wheels for the team.

  33. I also think its important point to note ,that British cycling has gone out into schools ,two of the team pursuit ,Dani King and Joanna Rowsell –
    attended a cycling workshop at there school and had no interest in cycling prior to this
    Grass roots !

  34. Surely part of the success of GB track cycling is that the track cyclists all train in Manchester. As a result they have access to the top level coaches and other top facilities (I think I read somewhere about a wind tunnel on site, but could be wrong about that). Other British sports have been behind the times on that front. Track athletes are members of local clubs, so won’t be getting top level coaching. Swimming was much the same. However, that has now changed. My understanding is that they now have 5 or 6 centres, which will no doubt lead to better results. Athletes may have to relocate, but by having access to more centralised and higher quality coaching, physios, psychologists, etc, they will reap the benefits.

    Of course British cycling has also been visting schools for a number of years, identifying young riders who could be future Olympians. Why wait for people with talent to maybe take up the sport when you can go to them? How many other countries have similar programmes?

    In a sense it is sad that sport is no longer necessarily about the most talented, but instead those who embrace science better. One could argue that British cycling is showing that you can make gains through this that mean doping isn’t necessary. However, one could also argue that they are just creating a different type of arms race where those with the most money will win.

    One day in the future I could see the UCI introducing new rules, whereby everyone would be on the same bikes and wearing the same clothing. In fact, despite being British, I think it would be a good thing for competition. Conversely it would be a shame to stop developments as it is important that we always try to move forwards.

  35. This is a great article. All of the technical and facilities stuff aside one has to consider the positive knock on of these investments and successes. Team GB and SkyProCycling are an inspiration to a lot of people regardless of nationality, age and ability. Couple that with the amazing facilities we have for such a small country and just imagine what the future holds.

    In my opinion, the achievements of this year, not just the Olympics, will indeed create a long lasting legacy and I’m sure help this nation reverse the scary trend of obesity and apathy.

    How about, as a pledge, all you riders that take the time to read this great article take a bit of time to get at least one rider on a bike this summer?

    Good luck to you all and enjoy your ride.

  36. Great article as per usual. All the technological advancements are clearly very helpful and must add up to an advantage of sorts, but isn’t the greatest weapon of all the structure put in place by Brailsford?

    In sport, as in most things in life, you need vision and focus to succeed. Brailsford has created a simple vision: on the track – x no. of gold medals at Beijing / London / Rio (presumably?)/ on the road – winning the Tour within 5 years (they did it in 3).
    To support that vision he has created a remarkable structure of mechanics, coaches, R&D etc (as explained in earlier posts) to allow the cyclists simply to pedal, and not to worry about anything else. He must be an incredible motivator, organiser and leader, fully committed to success, which clearly comes at a (financial) cost.
    The reason swimming & tennis & football (national team) are so mediocre at an international level is because these sports lack a visionary leader, steeped in the culture of their sport, who magically combines great personal, motivational, organisational & management skills. A similar thing happened in 2003, with Clive Woodward at the Rugby World Cup – once he had the backing of the RFU, and the support of the clubs, he was able to micro-manage the details and ensure a high level of coaching and the preparation of his squad. It has been happening in GB Men’s rowing for a long time, with Jurgen Grobler calling the shots. In 2012, it looks like GB Women’s rowing has just overtaken them.

    Lottery money is of course crucial to success, but as the GB athletics, tennis & swimming programmes demonstrate if you don’t have the correct structure (I know little of their respective structures, but considering their long-term lack of success, I can only assume they could be better organised), you are unlikely to succeed. As they say (somewhat simplistically), ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail’.
    Chapeau to Brailsford for a) getting his house 100% in order all that time ago (when did he start on this trip?), b) believing in his vision, and c) sticking to it with hard work. In 2012 he and British Cycling are reaping the benefits. When will other sports learn?

  37. Hiring the right doctors will get you success. And money will allow you to hire the best doctors and buy the most advanced “supplements”. Brailsford got the former Rabobank doctor Geert Leinders for Sky and the results came with him. That’s the same doctor Leindeers that got booted out of Rabobank because of he was running the team wide doping program.

    That hiring tells everything I need to know about what’s making Sky crush the competition and how serious about anti-doping Brailsford really is, i.e. not at all. Add to that Brailsford’s sudden refusal to let Paul Kimmage follow Sky within the team during the Tour, as had been already agreed beforehand, just right before the Tour’s start. Incidentally it was Bradley Wiggins who didn’t want Kimmage, the strong (lone) anti-doping voice in the media, join the Team Sky. I wonder what Bradley wanted to hide from Kimmage… Those “marginal gains” I guess.

    And Brailsford being the head of Team GB makes their unbelievable success look very suspicious as well. When something looks too good to be true, in cycling it always is.

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