Sir Dave Brailsford’s seventh win in the last eight editions of the Tour de France felt all the sweeter given he began the season wondering if it might be his last.
On Sunday, Egan Bernal became the first Colombian to win the Tour, continuing the run of success Brailsford has enjoyed both as Team Sky and now Team Ineos principal – albeit this time with a different accent as Bernal became the team’s first non-British winner.
When Sky announced in December they would pull their funding for the team at the end of the 2019 season, Brailsford considered walking away from the sport.
Instead, new backing arrived from Britain’s richest man, Sir Jim Ratcliffe, with the team relaunched as Ineos in May.
“There were obvious questions about whether we would find a new owner, and whether the timescale would allow us to prepare another challenge to win the Tour,” Brailsford said.
“I resolved to give it our best shot, and switching the team from Sky to Ineos midway through the season was a huge undertaking.
“Three months later, here we are with another yellow jersey.”
Ratcliffe’s takeover was not universally popular, with environmental protestors turning up at the Tour de Yorkshire to voice opposition to his company’s fracking operations. It was yet another controversy for Brailsford to face.
In March last year, a Parliamentary committee concluded that Team Sky had crossed an “ethical line” in their use of permitted medications in order to enhance performance.
Brailsford said that had an impact on him at last year’s Tour, in which Geraint Thomas delivered a popular victory which went a long way in boosting the team’s image after a damaging period.
“During the Tour last year, I was angry,” Brailsford said. “I felt like I was in a fight the whole time. I was stewing.
“Maybe age helps but this year I’ve felt a lot calmer. I don’t feel any less competitive but I’ve been a bit more measured and I’ve stopped fighting everybody.”
If Thomas’ victory proved popular, particularly with the team’s British base, 22-year-old’s Bernal triumph could have an even bigger impact around the world.
Cycling-mad Colombia has been waiting for decades to celebrate a Tour victory, and the scenes around the Ineos bus in the Place de la Concorde on Sunday night showed the outpouring of emotion.
Fans were massed along the pavements singing and shouting late into the night, hailing the youngest winner of the Tour since 1909.
Brailsford has spent plenty of time in Colombia and has a track record of signing some of their brightest prospects, with the 21-year-old Ivan Sosa the next potential star in the ranks.
“We’ve had Colombians in the team pretty much all the time, from Sergio Henao to Rigoberto Uran and Egan,” he said. “I’ve maintained a very close working relationship with the Colombians as a cycling nation. For them, this will be seismic.”
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