“It’s not until you actually get on a boat and you try and have a go yourself that you realise just how difficult it is!”
Sir Dave Brailsford and 80 of his Team Sky charges swapped two wheels for three sails this week and spent a day learning the ropes on a team building day with the British Sailing Team at the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy.
Testing, technical, tactical and, of course, highly competitive were the ingredients for the pro cycling team’s day out on the Weymouth waves, where staff and top riders including Tour de France winner Chris Froome and double Olympic gold medallist Geraint Thomas were put through their paces during a series of races on Sunsail’s Match First 40s.
They were ably assisted by some of Britain’s best Olympic and Paralympic Classes talents including double Olympic medallist Nick Dempsey, Paralympic gold medallist Helena Lucas, and Olympic silver medallist Luke Patience.
“This year we just thought we wanted to do something a bit different,” explained Team Principal Brailsford. “We were looking round at some different ideas and we wanted to preferably do something that was totally different but in a world class, high performance environment.”
“I’m good friends with [British Sailing Team Manager] Sparky and was chatting to him about it, and we came up with the idea of coming to Weymouth and Portland and of course it’s one of the iconic world class environments and programmes, not just in Britain but in the world now, so to come here and be in a high performance centre, in an academy with GB sailors – it just felt right.
“And of course sailing is something that none of us have done so we were all pretty excited about what it could offer, and now having done it, I’m very, very happy about what it delivered.”
Brailsford continued: “It’s always interesting for those who have been involved in Olympic sport, or any sport – when you see a sport and you’re aware of it, but you’ve never actually taken part.
“I’ve always known how successful Sparky’s team have been – but it’s not until you actually get on a boat and you try and have a go yourself that you realise just how difficult it is!
“Sparky fancies himself as a bit of a cyclist and I’m a bit competitive myself, but on this occasion I hate to admit that he’s a better cyclist than I know I am a sailor!”
Hurricane Gonzalo had thankfully passed by Wednesday (22 October), leaving behind a 12-14 knot north-westerly, with gusts of 20kts, for the ten boats to play in on Weymouth Bay. The morning session provided time for orientation and safety briefings, for the teams to practice manoeuvres and get settled into roles on board ready for a four-race mini-regatta in the afternoon.“
None of us have ever sailed before, so you can forget rank and our normal situation and really buy into this with everybody on the same page and the same level,” explained Brailsford.“
You learn straight away that sailing a boat’s not easy, it’s very technical, there’s a lot of communication required, a lot of co-ordination required and you’ve got to be thinking in the same way. There’s got to be somebody who’s leading the operation, there’s also the technical aspect of actually making the boat sail but also the tactical aspect of racing.
“We were very keen to race rather than just sail – that was important to us – and then you just get a real awareness when you’re trying to win of all the tactical elements, the nuances of the wind direction and everything else that’s involved.
“You realise what a technical sport it is and you have a fantastic appreciation for the quality of the people that perform at the highest level.”
Three ‘opening series’ races were held before a final Olympic-style double points medal race provided an exciting finale to the afternoon, with the British Sailing Team’s Alain Sign and Kate Mardel-Ferreira, and Sunsail crew Pete Walters and Jon Nabney guiding Team Sky’s Nathan Earle, Bernie Eisel, Hussein Fahmy, Soren Kristiansen, Xabier Artetxe, David Rozman, Rajen Murugayan and Tim Kerrison to the top step of the winner’s podium.
“It was a real pleasure to give Team Sky a little taster into our sport, and it’s always fantastic to spend time with individuals who are at the top of their game,” said British Sailing Team Manager Stephen ‘Sparky’ Park.
“I know that the British Sailing Team guys involved all had great fun and found it hugely inspiring to spend the day with other like-minded elite sportspeople.
“Cycling is something that many of our team members are passionate about and do a lot of as part of their fitness training programmes, so they have some level of appreciation and huge admiration for what the Team Sky guys have to go through to put in the performances and the results that they do.
“It’s fantastic to have been able to offer Team Sky this opportunity to spend time in our environment and I know they all enjoyed themselves too.”
So will the British Sailing Team be joining Team Sky on the Tourmalet any time soon?
“Sparky’s getting leaner and faster on his bike as time goes on!” Brailsford joked.‘’
“But we’d love to be able to return the gesture and hopefully invite the British Sailing Team out to a ‘mini Tour de France’ or something of that nature that we can host and then they can come and have a look at our world.”
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