IT’S EASY TO HATE THE SUCCESSFUL. BUT TEAM SKY OFTEN MADE IT A LITTLE TOO EASY. SO EASY, IN FACT, THAT PEOPLE DIDN’T EVEN HAVE TO FEEL BAD ABOUT IT.
Since 2009, Darth Brailsford’s wing of Rupert Murdoch’s not-quite-evil-but-definitely-getting-there galactic empire has cut a swathe through the road cycling universe.
Along the way, the Team Sky war-orb hasn’t often paused to consider collateral damage, preferring instead to simply plough through planet after planet and trust its commanders to ensure resistance is seen and heard only via last-ditch hologram.
Opponents, governing bodies and friends-turned-former-friends have been swept aside with the cold detachment of a cleaner-droid brushing the crumbs out of Jabba the Hutt’s fat-folds. Bridges have been burned, presumably along with any evidence that Team Sky were responsible for burning the bridges in the first place.
All things considered, it’s been quite a journey. But it’s one that will come to a juddering halt at the end of 2019 when the team will cease its shilling for a right-wing media behemoth and be forced to seek its fortune elsewhere.
Whatever form into which it morphs, it’s unlikely the team will have quite the same influence over cycling as it presently does. Pay no heed to anyone who says now with certainty whether that will be a unilaterally good or bad thing. [*Fires up patented KONM cliché-engine*] Only time will tell. There are two sides to every coin. [*Cuts engine*]
What is certain, however, is that Team Sky shedding its current skin will create an opening for a new pantomime villain in the pro peloton. The baying crowd of which all sports fans are part, KONM included, doesn’t just want something to boo, it needs it. Without the lurking wolf or fee-fi-fo-fumming giant served up for the hero to slay, there’s no point watching.
Team Sky, despite rarely allowing themselves to be slain, have played that role perfectly for over a decade. Wherever they go they are a spectacle, even if it’s only because of the litres of piss constantly being showered over their riders.
Particularly during the Tour de France, the abuse and hostility is omnipresent. So bad have things become for the Sky riders that KONM long ago gave up laughing at the thought of an unfortunate soigneur having to strain other people’s bodily fluids out of Chris Froome’s jersey after each étape.
Whatever the riders are putting into their bodies, there’s no need to add to the contents by spitting or chucking a bidon full of bladderwater at them as they chain-gang their way up an Alp. Somehow, the people who look the bigger idiots in that scenario are not the ones with pictures of whales on their backs.
All of which means it’s no longer as much fun to hate Team Sky as it used to be*. It’s facile to the extent that the team’s own multifarious and widely documented flaws have driven a select group of cowards to pick on a bunch of tired, exposed and vulnerable men to whom the sport generously allows spectators get close.
*Hate, of course, is always too strong a word for this type of thing. But you get the drift.
Still, for Brailsford and Team Sky the die is well and truly cast. There’s no going back – the hero role has gone to other actors and even a nice shiny rebrand won’t change that.
The only question now is: who will take the heckles when Team Sky have left the stage? Brailsford seems keen to keep things going under a new title sponsor, so perhaps therein lies the answer. Where goes Mr Marginal Gains, so shall ire follow.
In Team Sky’s absence, it’ll be nice to see David Gaudu zipping his way to a maillot jaune for Groupama-FDJ in 2020, but as he tearfully waves to the ecstatic Champs-Élysées crowd part of KONM will wish he’d done it against the backdrop of a galactic empire determined to snuff out his act of rebellion.
Even if a Brailsford-led First Order has sprung from the ashes by then, it just won’t be the same.
Featured photo: Jaguar MENA/Commons, edited by KONM