Sir Dave Brailsford's vision for Chris Froome and Team Sky
Last updated on .From the section Cycling
If Sir Dave Brailsford had a coat of arms it would feature a magpie, a sponge and a Great White Shark.
A magpie to represent his talent for spotting shiny bits of knowledge, a sponge for his ability to retain it, and the world's most fearsome predator because of his appetite for more of it.
It would also have to be the best coat of arms in the world.
Brailsford's job title at Team Sky - arguably road cycling's most successful team over the last five years, and certainly the most influential - is team principal. That does not come close to describing what he does, though.
Cheerleader, spokesman, strategist, head of innovation, beating heart…the most shocking thing about this list is that until a year ago he was combining them with the job of running the British Olympic and Paralympic cycling teams.
"We've just completed our first five years, a terrific experience, and now we're starting our next five years and wondering what they'll look like," said Brailsford, in his element at Team Sky's winter training camp in Majorca.
"Well, we want them to be better than our first five years.
"If you can't keep getting better, what's the point? Go do something else.
"I'm enthused by having a hungry group of guys who want to get better, who are looking at every single thing out there to try and improve, and have a lot of fun doing it."
He sounded enthused, and "hungry" was the most frequently used adjective at the camp - and not just because they were all on strict diets. But he has earned the right to be this excited.
This is the man who led British cycling to unheralded glories at two Olympics, who said he would win the Tour de France with a Brit inside five years only to do it twice in four years, and who gave us the concept of the "marginal gain" (the difference between winning and losing).
Unfortunately, marginal gains are like chicken pox at pre-school - pretty soon everybody has them - which is why he needs something bigger if he is to get Team Sky back on track after the most difficult season it has experienced since 2010, its first.
|Sir Dave Brailsford - three key facts|
|As a young man, he went to live in France in a bid to earn a professional cycling contract|
|He says his proudest achievement is not Olympic medals or Tour de France victories but that 2.1m British people now cycle regularly|
|GB's seven golds at the 2008 Olympics helped him win the BBC Sports Personality of the Year coach award. He won it again in 2012|
It is at this point that every other team will be leaning forward, pen and paper in hand, waiting for 2015's version of buying the best bus you can afford, washing your hands properly, training on a volcano in Tenerife and all the other great ideas Brailsford has revived, borrowed or coined himself.
But Brailsford, 50, has got wise to that. Sky's rivals will have to work it out for themselves.
What he can say is that sleeping and technology are in, and too much sitting down is out (chairs can play havoc with spines and pelvises, you see).
But it is technology that is really exciting him.
"There's a lot going on human performance at the minute - in that relationship between technology and sports science," he explained.
"You've got to be on that, and if you're not, you're in danger of missing the boat."
That boat is just about to leave by the sound of it. Brailsford is skipping the first couple weeks of the season to take a trip to meet tech companies in California.
"What teams will be doing in 2020 - monitoring performance, training and so on - will be very different to today," he added.
When asked if this meant big data, drones and wearable technology, he said: "Yep, all of that. There's just so much out there."
This, of course, will lead some to say Team Sky's famously methodical approach is going to get even more…well, robotic.
"We're not robotic at all," he said, nipping my impertinence in the bud.
"Robots don't have emotions. Robots don't love racing. Robots don't have that hunger."
Whether Team Sky have been the numbers-obsessed "Skybots" of legend or blood-and-guts warriors is a matter of opinion, but what is not up for debate is that 2014 was a step backwards.
Unless that debate is with Brailsford.
"You have to look at the whole five years. It's in our nature to say 'well that was good, and some of it was really good, but you can always be better'."
That was certainly the story from 2010 to 2013: a slow start, gathering momentum, bouncing back from bad luck, Tour domination.
|Team Sky's first five years|
|165 wins, with New Zealander Greg Henderson claiming the first in Team Sky's debut race in Australia|
|Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen has the most wins with 24, Sir Bradley Wiggins has 23 and Chris Froome 21|
|This year's five new signings bring the total who have ridden for Team Sky to 59|
|15 Brits have ridden for Sky, with eight on the team now, the same number as in 2010|
|There are seven founding members still on the team, six of them are British|
|The team has raced in 21 countries and has the biggest social media presence in the peloton|
There were still a few gaps on the CV - a win in a major one-day race being the most glaring, and a failure to mount much of a challenge at the Giro d'Italia - but nobody could dispute Team Sky's record in the stage races that build up to the Tour, and in the three-week race itself.
Last year initially looked like it was going the same sweet way as 2012 and 2013. There were even signs of improvement in the classics.
But then everybody started to get ill, or fall off their bikes, or both. On top of that there was a reprise of the distracting dispute between the team's two Tour champions, Sir Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome.
The upshot was another year passed without a classics win, no Wiggo at the Tour in Yorkshire,no Froome at the Tour in the mountains, and no Sky rider within earshot of the podium in Paris.
"Sport and success is a journey. There's no end point," said Brailsford, defiantly.
"That journey involves failure sometimes. It's how you deal with it that's important.
"Some adversity every now and then is a great thing - it separates the winners from the also-rans. I would like to think we're in the winners' category."
One man very much in that category is Wiggins. But the world time trial champion leaves the team in three months' time to embark on his own journey towards Olympic immortality in Rio, via the iconic milestones of Paris-Roubaix and an attempt at the Hour Record this summer.
That leaves Froome as Team Sky's frontman: a position of power and responsibility.
The former was obvious in Majorca - the media day was brought forward to accommodate his desire to train in South Africa - but a sense of the latter was unmistakeable.
"I feel a lot hungrier this season, I'm in a much better place," said Froome with his customary politeness.
"I don't have that same pressure as last year as defending champion. We're all starting from scratch."
When asked to mark last year's work out of 10, Froome was candid.
"For effort 10/10, but in terms of performance certainly lower than that," he said.
"But bike racing is unpredictable. Crashes happen, you get sick, you get injured. It was an important season for me, I learned a lot."
He definitely seemed more relaxed. Married life must agree with him.
The added firepower Brailsford has brought to the team in the shape of five strong signings must help, too, with Czech climber Leopold Konig and versatile Dutchman Wout Poels being serious upgrades in the domestique department.
But when you are given the keys to a machine like Team Sky you need to drive it in the biggest race, which is why it was a shock when Froome initially said he did not like this year's Tour route.
"People read too much into that," the 29-year-old explained.
"I was looking into the prospect of doing a Giro-Vuelta double because I didn't know how many more opportunities I'd get for a Giro that is set up with so many mountain-top finishes and a decent amount of time trialling.
"I'm not going to say next year's Tour route doesn't suit me, it does very well, but it's just that the Giro was worth considering.
"But the Tour is the biggest race in the calendar and for a rider in my position, with the backing of a massive team, it would be crazy not to do it."
Crazy and disappointing, as this year's Tour has the making of a classic, with stars Alberto Contador, Vincenzo Nibali and Nairo Quintana all expected to line up in Utrecht.
Quintana finished second behind Froome in 2013 and claimed his first Grand Tour win at the 2014 Giro, while Nibali coasted to victory at the Tour after Froome and Contador crashed out.
"This year is a different story. Alberto has set himself quite a challenge going for the Giro first - I know how tough it is to do back-to-back Grand Tours."
It is clear listening to Froome that the Spaniard is still the rival he benchmarks himself against, and regardless of Contador's possible distractions the Team Sky leader will have to recover his 2013 form if he is to beat him.
"You need a fantastic attitude, purpose, hunger, desire, and Chris has got all of that," said Brailsford, returning to the appetite motif.
"We don't know if we're going to win but we do know we're going to do our utmost to be the best."