The man behind the British cycling squad hotly tipped for multiple medal success at the Beijing Olympics has said he wants to enter a British team into the 2010 Tour de France, with the aim of giving the UK its first winner of the sport's most famous race "four or five years" later.
Team manager Dave Brailsford said he wanted to create professional cycling's first "Formula One" outfit. And he insisted all this could be done without compromising the success of a British team that led the way at March's world track cycling championships in Manchester, northern England, with nine gold medals and 11 in all.
"It's always been the holy grail for (British) cycling to try to win the Tour de France with a British rider," Brailsford told reporters in London on Thursday. "It's never been done before. But we want to win the Tour de France for the first time ever with a clean British rider."
Brailsford said world Madison champion Mark Cavendish, who won a stage on the Tour of Italy last month, was the man to spearhead the British challenge.
"This guy is going to be a big star in British sport and win stages on the Tour de France," Brailsford said. "He's just turned 23 and he's got a fantastic future ahead of him. It just feels the time is right to make our assault on the Tour de France."
The British track team has become as well known for the technical excellence of its machinery as the quality of its riders.
"The idea is to be the first 'Formula One' team in pro-cycling," Brailsford explained. "We've made our own bikes, our own wheels, our own helmets and our own suits. We want to inject our infrastructure into a professional road team."
Brailsford, who said he'd been holding discussions with potential commercial backers, reckoned the cost of running a competitive team in the Tour de France to be at £6million ($12million) a year. He said there was a practical reason for wanting to create a British team as well as the idealistic one of winning the Tour.
"Life goes on after Beijing and the 2012 London Olympics are looming in the distance. We've been blessed with fantastic young track riders, who double up as road riders too. But in order to move forward we need a significant income from the commercial sector to pay the guys' wages."
But the Tour de France has become synonymous with drug scandals after a series of doping controversies in recent years. That obviously plays badly with potential sponsors and Brailsford admitted: "The Tour de France does bring up the drugs question time and time again."
Nevertheless, he insisted: "I do genuinely feel it's getting better because, talking to them, the riders don't want to dope and they are starting to self-police."
Brailsford said while his new team might win a stage in 2010 it would take "four or five years" to win the Tour itself.
While he insisted he hadn't lost sight of track cycling's importance, Brailsford said: "The biggest race in the world is the Tour de France. We've become quite successful at what we do already and I see no reason why we can't take the same mentality to the Tour de France.
"You talk about what footprints you'd like to leave on the sport and I would like to have a bloody good go at doing something that's not been done before whilst still performing tremendously well every four years."
Last year's Tour began in London and talks are in progress for it to come back to the British capital in 2012 as a prelude to the Olympics.
© AFP 2008