How Team Sky and British Cycling Became the Best in the World
TrainingPeaks CTO Brad Culberson had the privilege of spending two weeks in France and London with Team Sky and British Cycling during the 2012 Tour de France and London Olympics.
With six stage wins and number 1 and 2 on the podium at the 2012 Tour de France, Team Sky grabbed the attention of all other cycling teams, and the world. Then, just over a week later Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome thrust British Cycling into that spotlight as well when they took gold and bronze at the Olympics in the men's time trial.
Years ago few would have ever imagined this scenario, but British Cycling had a plan, and they were hard at work changing the face of cycling in the United Kingdom. Part of that included a close partnership with Sky as the team’s Principal Partner, and sharing of Team Sky and British Cycling head coaching staff. By 2012, Team Sky had everyone’s attention - and still outperformed almost all expectations. The GB riders won gold and bronze in London the same year. How did British Cycling grow to become such a powerhouse?
After hanging out with them at the Tour de France and at the Olympics, I was able to gather a few key things they were doing to make it all possible.
It all starts with British Cycling finding and recruiting the best talent early on. Here in the UK, track cycling is introduced to riders at a very young age (some riders are only 12 years old when they begin on the track), and it is the recruitment ground upon which British Cycling finds and shapes their rising stars. If you look at many of the stars in British Cycling, they have roots on the track: Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish, Lizzy Armistead and more. The track isn't the only way to mold superstars, but for British Cycling it’s a great resource for spotting the outliers. Lizzy Armistead, discovered at age 15, was a favorite for gold at the 2012 Olympics, and it’s questionable whether she would have been in London this year without the British Cycling track program.
Partnership with Team Sky
British Cycling is also quite a bit different than any other national governing body due to their close and direct ties to Team Sky. As they recruit and find new riders they are also helping to build the future of Team Sky. With their partnership and overlapping coaching staff, they are operationally very similar. Neither British Cycling nor Team Sky misses any detail. Team Sky controls their own destiny, not allowing anything to deter their riders from top performance. Every step of the day is under control: food is made by the team chef, bikes are maintained by team mechanics and optimized on a daily basis for the stage/race, and they even take portable A/C units and mattresses for athletes to every hotel. Team Sky is one of the few Tour de France teams who have a dedicated performance staff on a 5:1 athlete to coach basis. For a while, some said all this was wasteful - but the results suggest that the attention to detail is working.
After finding the best talent, Team Sky and British Cycling use every resource available to make their riders a success. Working for TrainingPeaks, where we are focused on the science of training, coaching, and technology, here’s where I really get interested in how it all works. Team Sky has relied heavily on technology for their winning advantage, thanks in large part to Head of Performance Support, Tim Kerrison, who comes from a swimming background. Kerrison is very data-driven in his approach, and was not afraid to change things up when he entered the rather traditional world of professional cycling. SRM power meters go on every bike - race, training, TT - and everyone uploads their data to TrainingPeaks. Check out this tweet by the popular cycling blog inrng.com from Bradley Wiggins' Stage 19 victory at the 2012 Tour de France:
While nearly all the Tour de France riders use power data and analysis to some extent, Team Sky takes it to the next level with their dedicated coaching staff assessing every training session and providing feedback to the riders every day! The data and analytical tools within TrainingPeaks give them insight into who is performing best, who is in top form for which event, and how to mold custom training programs for each rider based upon their specific needs. Team Sky coaching staff use the mathematical algorithms within TrainingPeaks to model out fitness, fatigue and form and make roster decisions for who goes to which race.
Now we’re also seeing this practice of using power meters going down to the youngest riders in British Cycling. Those riders know that having that data available will not only help them be faster, but will help them to stand out in the technologically-savvy program.
Changing of the Guard?
British Cycling and Team Sky both stand out to me because they figured out a way to build an amazing pro team and Olympic stars in a completely new way. It isn't about just grabbing the talent that already exists in the world and getting them to race for your team. It is all about finding the right person early, then creating and building their talent using scientific training methods and attention to detail. Hanging out with the teams at this year’s Tour de France and London Olympics, I could feel that this is a game changer in the cycling world. In the coming years, I think we just may begin to see other teams and organizations take on that focus of early recruitment, dedication to details, and reliance on technology. Could this be a "changing of the guard" towards a new school of thought in pro cycling? I hope so.
We built TrainingPeaks because we knew we could help coaches and athletes perform at their absolute best. It feels great to see how our tools were a part of creating the best cycling team in the world.
-Brad Culberson (@bculberson)
TrainingPeaks Chief Technology Officer
As the official training software of both Team Sky and British Cycling, TrainingPeaks was proud to present power data from Team Sky riders bbduring the 2012 Tour de France at trainingpeaks.com/TDF. You can also see TrainingPeaks London 2012 race data and training tips from Olympians at trainingpeaks.com/races/2012-olympic-games.