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British Cycling may find that it is impossible to replace Sir Dave Brailsford

They say that no-one is bigger than the team.

Sir Dave Brailsford's philosophy of 'incremental gains' has been often copied. Picture: Getty Images
Sir Dave Brailsford's philosophy of 'incremental gains' has been often copied. Picture: Getty Images

In Sir Dave Brailsford and British Cycling's case, this may not quite be true. Brailsford has transformed cycling in this country from a minority sport in every way, shape and form into a phenomenon. Both the elite branch of cycling and wider participation levels are currently thriving and Brailsford, the body's performance director, has been the mastermind behind this revolution.

He is also the general manager of Team Sky, who have taken the Tour de France by storm with Bradley Wiggins giving Britain its first winner in the history of the event in 2012, before Chris Froome retained the yellow jersey for GB and Team Sky last summer.

All good things must come to an end though. As successful as the sport has been in the last 14 years under Brailsford's stewardship, the Englishman, who will be 50 tomorrow, is to review his dual role in the aftermath of this week's Track Cycling World Championships amid personal concerns that he is spreading himself too thinly. If initial reports are to be believed, it is British Cycling which is to likely to lose Brailsford's assiduity.

It has been reported that Brailsford has already "stepped back" in his day-to-day involvement with British Cycling - last year he appointed programmes director Andy Harrison to provide additional support - but feels it necessary to review his remit once again.

Brailsford has been at the helm of British Cycling since 2000 - around the same time that lottery funding was introduced - and has overseen the sport in this country becoming amongst the most successful in terms of athletes on podiums. Fourteen medals at the 2008 Olympic Games followed by 12 medals at London 2012 is an impressive return.

However, the birth of Team Sky in 2010 meant Brailsford's focus split and he appears to have decided that one of the roles has to give.

Irrespective of one's opinion of Brailsford as a person, there is no argument that he is a supremely skilled and successful manager. He often compares himself to an orchestra conductor, describing his role as someone who appoints experts in their own particular field and then coordinates them to ensure the best possible team is assembled to assist his athletes.

Brailsford coined the phrase "the aggregation of marginal gains", and these five words perfectly illustrate Brailsford's management style. His attention to detail is unparalleled. He was the first manager in cycling to look at each and every area of performance in order to gain an advantage for his athletes over their rivals, and he transferred these methods to Team Sky with similar success. It has been said that Brailsford's life is utterly consumed by his work but his methods have been so successful that every sport in Britain now aspires to be a paradigm of British Cycling.

It seems logical that with both British Cycling and Team Sky inordinately successful, the workload has become too much for one man to handle. It is perhaps surprising that Brailsford will sacrifice the track side of the sport, though. Track cycling is infinitely more controllable than road cycling, something that seems to be attractive to Brailsford. The Englishman recently said with regards to his role at Team Sky that "having won the Tour twice, it has put us on the map globally, and it feels like a bigger challenge [now]".

This is a strange comment. If anything, the fact Wiggins and Froome have achieved the stated target of providing a British winner of the Tour de France means that future goals are less challenging than those which have already been overcome. On the other hand, in the world of cycling, it is victory on the road which garners most prestige.

Nevertheless, it will be a sizeable, perhaps unquantifiable, loss for British Cycling to lose Brailsford. On his watch, it has been a seamless operation. He is not afraid to take tough decisions, cutting the funding of athletes who fail to perform, including Scotland's World Junior Champion John Paul, who has fallen victim of this ruthlessness in recent years.

Yet, criticism of Brailsford is difficult, if not impossible, to find. Victoria Pendleton hinted that she retired at London 2012 as a result of politics rather than any physical deterioration - her relationship with performance analyst Scott Gardner was forbidden according to team rules - yet she refused to criticise Brailsford for the way the situation was handled.

There are few managers who are as skilled in man-management as Brailsford appears to be and it seems unlikely that British Cycling will be able to replace him with someone of equal calibre. It remains to be seen if his absence will impact significantly on the performances of the British Cycling riders. Arguably, Brailsford is the most significant cog in the organisation - it may only be in his absence that it is realised just how valuable an asset he really is.

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