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Aug 10, 2012, 11.16 PM IST
OLYMPICS-CYCLING:Olympics - Steely Brailsford delivers the goods
By Julien Pretot
LONDON (Reuters) - Early one November morning in 2011, British cycling supremo David Brailsford sat in the Manchester velodrome feeling the situation was spinning out of control.
The British track cycling squad was not doing well enough in training to meet Brailsford's exacting standards and with only eight months before the Olympics, he felt he needed to stamp his authority.
"November last year, around the European track championships, that was a worrying time. That is the time in an Olympic cycle when you need to start pulling the lever back and it all starts to take off," said Brailsford.
"This really, really worried me - that we'd got our timing wrong. That was very, very concerning."
A few months earlier, Brailsford had also been criticised for trying to combine two jobs, director of performance at British cycling, funded by money from the National Lottery, and manager of professional Team Sky.
He was the subject of an audit commissioned by UK Sport into the relationship between the two roles.
A man of logic, not emotions, the 48-year-old could not understand why he was being investigated and his management system was duly cleared.
"At the time, I didn't think there was any need for a report. I don't take things lightly and I had worked it all out. It was a challenge but it's possible," said Brailsford, who has a degree in sports science and an MBA (master's degree in business administration) from the Sheffield Business school.
"The British Cycling system works. I'm not a coach. I look after the system and it works because it's got very good people within it. I have to tinker with it every now and then to keep it on track."
Eight months later and his record speaks for itself.
After Team Sky worked together to ensure Bradley Wiggins became Britain's first Tour de France winner, British track cyclists dominated the London Olympics in spectacular fashion by claiming seven gold medals.
All with a man at the helm who admits he is basically lazy.
"I know from different personal experiences that unless I'm frightened or scared, really concerned about something ... if I am, then I work really really hard, I'm a hard worker. If I'm not, I'm lethargic, I'm lazy," Brailsford told reporters.
"I think for everybody you've got to have that level of intensity, which inevitably brings some contradictions sometimes."
Brailsford lived in France when his father worked as an Alpine guide and had a four-year career as a professional road rider in the country which stages the most prestigious race in cycling.
His steel blue eyes and bald head can inspire and intimidate in equal measure and he was hired by British Cycling as an advisor in 1996 when Lottery funding came in, before becoming performance director.
He led Britain to two Olympic titles on the track in Athens and almost quadrupled the tally in Beijing four years later but that was not enough.
At the end of 2009, Brailsford became manager of Team Sky, with the aim of having a British rider win the Tour de France within five years.
"It's the same philosophy and ideas which seem to work," said Brailsford, adding he wanted to apply his format to a different discipline within the sport.
"Professionally that is a nice challenge - to go and see if you can do something else.
"When you see the likes of Geraint (Thomas), Peter Kennaugh, Swifty (Ben Swift), Brad (Wiggins), all those guys coming up through a British system it was clear as the day is long the aim was to have a pro team and try to win the Tour," he said.
He managed that at the third attempt with Wiggins and masterminded another gold rush in London but that is still not enough for Brailsford who keeps track of his medal objectives on his electronic notebook.
"I tinker," he says.
Having said last year he would not rest until cycling was part of the British culture, Brailsford has an open mind about his future.
"I think people are interested. If people see success then they think, okay, that's quite interesting, if they see continued success, people are interested in the repeatability they think maybe it can be applied elsewhere," he said.
Brailsford, however, believes he can still do more for British cycling and the close-knit team he has nurtured.
"Our team is not a fluffy group of people," he said. "We have our issues. We are like a family in many respects. You do bicker, moan, and it's hard to keep everyone together.
"But ultimately the team pulled it together when it really matters like it would do for a family." (Editing by Ed Osmond and Michael Holden)
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