Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Brailsford and his gymnastics stunt at the Rayner dinner

When I read about Team Sky boss Sir David Brailsford bawling out

a cycling reporter on the Tour’s rest day for writing “S...” about him, it sounded very much like a Trump moment.

But it also reminded me of the time when I crossed swords – or words – with the great man.  Brailsford, that is. Not the American  President. 

My comments had been harmless but he didn’t take kindly to them, I learned. He politely chastised me when we next met. He gave me a steely smile. But there was no outburst.

Nevertheless, he had been clearly irritated by what I had written.  And I was very surprised, for I thought his stock had risen considerably by my observations. But no. Whoa, I thought.

The incident in question had occurred during that celebrated annual social occasion, the Dave Rayner Fund Raising Dinner. This must have been 2003 and I think it was held in Harrogate. Or was it Bradford?

No matter. I was covering the event for Cycling Weekly and Brailsford was there with several members of the World Class Performance team, some of whom may have benefited from Rayner funding in the past. At that stage in his career I think he was in a managerial role and had yet to be elevated to the top job of Performance Director prior to the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.

Anyway, after the dinner and just before the auction of cycling memorabilia was to begin, many guests had repaired to the lounge bar. Everyone was in high spirits, as they usually are at a Rayner dinner – it’s a huge laugh, just as the late Dave Rayner himself was. Rayner was a charismatic and talented professional bike rider who died tragically young and whose name lives on by the inspired  creation of the Rayner Fund which has since provided countless youngsters with a springboard to the pro ranks.

So when I spotted Brailsford doing side to side cartwheels in the crowded hotel lounge, to the cheers of those around him who clearly appreciated this demonstration of kinesthetic awareness and flexibility - which it seems has been passed on to ace descender Froome  - I naturally included his excellent gymnastic stunt in my story.

A story intended as a light-hearted sketch of the proceedings and which perfectly reflected the nature of the event. Or so I thought.

Dave thought otherwise, I discovered a while later when reporting the opening gala night of the newly built Newport Velodrome in South Wales.

As I walked into the building someone tipped me off. Ooooh. He didn’t like what you had written about him. I should not have written about him doing cartwheels!

Mystified, I sought him out in the track centre and asked him if that was true. He said yes, he’d taken a dim view to my reporting him doing cartwheels.

They were perfect cartwheels, I told him. He smiled thinly. He’d rather I hadn’t written it.

Oh dear, come on Dave, lighten up! I remember saying. He grinned at that.

And that was that. We met on several press occasions after that and clearly the matter had been forgotten. 

But it left me surprised and disappointed. I could only surmise that he considered that such antics reported in the cycling press would not do his job prospects any good when in fact it can’t have done him any harm at all!

In fact! Well, not in fact, I am making this bit up. But I like to think that his boss, Peter Keen, who created the World Class Performance Plan in the first place,  thought that if he made Brailsford Performance Director, he might then “perform cartwheels”  around the opposition? 

(Or run circles around them, as the saying goes)

And so it has proved!

I mean, just look at him. Leaving out all the controversy of the recent past, here is the Mastermind behind the greatest haul of Olympic medals of any sport in Britain; he is the creator of Team Sky, top team in Le Tour.

And he does perfect cartwheels. 


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