The Tour de France has a problem.
A Sky-shaped problem.
It was visible out on the roads of France this year in the form of boos, jeers, gestures, and the occasional swipe at a rider.
On the second rest-day, during a press conference, Sky boss Dave Brailsford got a bit cross and put the cat amongst a group of quote-hungry French pigeons taking notes.
He said the behaviour the team had put up with was unacceptable (which it was).
He wondered whether it might be a “French cultural thing”.
This remark was on the back of some sniping in the direction of “French Town Mayor” David Lappartient, the president of the UCI.
I happen to agree with the gist of both these pronouncements. No-one else was sticking up for Sky. The authorities showed no sign of addressing the issue. It felt a bit like Sky were considered fair game for being, well…Sky.Embed from Getty Images
He does come across a bit parochial.
Brailsford’s language, though, was always going to cause offence. Post-Tour, as the hubbub begins to die down, French media outlet L’Equipe have settled on a dog-based analogy by way of perspective:
“One can regret that Lappartient and Brailsford behaved like two yapping dogs who met on a pavement, sniffed each other’s behinds and barked over one another via the press.”
We can all be thankful that they didn’t take this canine behaviour one step further.
Imagine the diplomatic crisis had Brailsford cocked his leg and marked his territory on the freshly pressed suit of the UCI president. Or if Lappartient, heaven forbid, had responded by cornering Brailsford and humping his leg in front of the world’s press?
“French cultural thing” or not, that could really have taken the shine off Geraint’s Tour win.
One theory doing the rounds is that the Sky problem is not so much one of trust, or Britishness, or Brailsford, but money.Embed from Getty Images
To counter this, a salary cap has been flung out into the media as a possible solution. Lappartient, for one, says he’s keen.
By limiting the overall budget of a team, the theory goes, they have a finite amount to spend on wages. If you pay Chris Froome four million euros a year you can’t also afford Geraint Thomas, Michel Kwiatkowski, and Wout Poels.
Sky would end up with an engine room composed not of superstar athletes but journeymen pros and young upstarts.
They’d be forced to spend the off-season scouring the mountains of Colombia for blood relatives of the super-human twenty-one year old Egan Bernal. By identifying the fountainhead of that freakish physiology they could then harvest mountain domestiques cheaply, at source.
Alas, I fear Bernal is a one-off.
And I don’t see the salary cap idea happening anyway.
Pro cycling, as a sport, is terrible at achieving anything that requires universal cooperation. So you’ll be glad to hear that, in my usual whimsical style, I have a slightly less practical but infinitely more entertaining solution to the Sky problem.
You’ve heard the phrase “look good, feel good, ride good?”
Here’s the plan:
At the start of each season eighteen designs of team kit are made available for the World Tour teams. The lowest ranked team from the previous season get the first pick, the second lowest get the second pick, and so on.
So Sky find themselves racing in the mixed up mess of UAE Team Emirates. Where once they felt stylish and invincible, they now possess the assurance and self-confidence of a spotty teenager alone with a girl at a school disco.
Performance is sure to suffer.
Team Dimension Data, on the other hand, get first dibs and rock up in Movistar blue. All strut and swagger, podium ready.
We could televise it like the draft system in American football.
Riders would have the choice of being an ugly winner or a stylish loser.
As for any link between the phrases “stylish loser” and “French cultural thing” you made that connection yourself.
(Team Sky Logo: by Team Sky / Sky plc (@TeamSky) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)