Team Sky sets Tour de France target

BRITAIN'S biggest ever cycling team was launched in central London yesterday, two weeks before they make their competitive debut at the Tour Down Under in Adelaide.

As the glitzy presentation made clear, it is a team with ambitions not just to rewrite British cycling history, but – in the words of one team director – to "change the sport of cycling."

Team Sky, backed with undisclosed millions from the satellite broadcaster, aims to win the Tour de France within five years "with a clean, British rider."

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Last month's recruitment of Bradley Wiggins, who placed fourth last year, could reduce the timescale, and Wiggins said yesterday: "If I'm ever going to win the Tour, it'll be in this team, definitely.

"This is one of the strongest teams in the world, in every department not just the riders – the backroom staff as well. These are exciting times."

In presenting his 26 riders, representing 12 nations, Dave Brailsford, who guided Britain's cyclists to eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics, refuted the suggestion that his richly- resourced team is set to be "the Manchester City of cycling."

"We're not a Man City or a Chelsea," he said. "We've got heritage – this is not something that's happened overnight. I've worked ten years of my life towards this. We needed a partner to make it happen, but it's not a case of someone rocking up with a lot of money.

"We've been talking about establishing a professional road team for years," continued Brailsford, who plans to fulfil a dual-role as team principal of Team Sky and performance director of British Cycling.

"There is another mission behind it, to develop opportunities for young British riders."

"We'll definitely be driven by technology. We'll use technology from different sports and walks of life like the military to see what can be used to achieve that.

"We look at Formula 1 and work closely with the guys there. The aerodynamics and technology they use is of real interest."

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Yet while Brailsford insisted that the new team will augment British Cycling's Olympic ambitions for London in 2012 – and to prove the point he will visit Chris Hoy and his fellow sprinters at their training camp in Perth next week, en route to the Tour Down Under – feathers have been ruffled as the final pieces of the jigsaw were negotiated into place.

With Wiggins successfully prised away from Garmin with a year of his contract remaining, attention turned to another young British rider, Ben Swift, who last month was named in Team Sky's line-up for the Tour Down Under, only for the team he rode for in 2009, Katusha, to point out that he remained under contract to them for a further 12 months.

Swift was finally confirmed yesterday as a Team Sky rider and Brailsford admitted there had been "tricky" moments in recent months.

"There is no set, formal procedure in cycling for transfers so those negotiations are quite difficult. You need a tripartite agreement between the rider, his team and the UCI (International Cycling Union]. People say we've p***** a lot of people off, but I don't think we have or Garmin and Katusha wouldn't have signed those agreements (to release their riders]."

Swift said: "I'm massively grateful to Katusha for the opportunities they gave me, but coming to Team Sky feels like coming home, because I know so many of the support staff and the riders."

Brailsford added: "Ben is a real talent and his future looks bright because he ticks all the boxes that it takes to make it in this sport.

"He's extremely serious, skilled on bike, he can climb and sprint and I really believe he can go far with us

Wiggins said: "At one point it didn't look like the move was going to happen, but now I'm just looking forward to our first training camp in Valencia, and getting racing."

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For Wiggins that will be at the five-day Etoile des Beseges in early February, but his focus is firmly fixed on July. "It's no secret that the Tour de France is going to be the main goal of the team," said the rider who last year equalled Robert Millar's fourth overall finish in 1984. "We'll leave no stone unturned in preparing for it."