Why is Sir Dave Brailsford such a master of strategy?

98101275_cycling_323801cSir Dave Brailsford, Performance Director of British Cycling and principal for Team Sky, understands what real strategy is, how to formulate it and how to execute it. His strategic approach has helped British riders achieve a record haul of Olympic medals at three successive Olympic Games, produced a World Champion in Mark Cavendish and two successive Tour de France winners in Sir Bradley Wiggins and now Chris Froome.

Chris Froome’s 2013 Tour de France win: good strategy in action

Richard Rumelt’s book Good Strategy / Bad Strategy is one of the best texts on the subject of strategy. He explains that good strategy begins with the diagnosis of a situation (using analysis), identifies an overall guiding policy for addressing the situation and is then followed up with coherent actions.

It was interesting then to read this quote from Dave Brailsford in The Independent newspaper. He is commenting on the approach that Team Sky took to make sure that Chris Froome was champion in this year’s 2013 Tour de France:

“We really looked at how we won last year with Wiggins and then studied the 2013 route, looking at the opportunities to take time. And we saw it was much trickier. So we decided to go a little more on the offensive compared to 2012, try and take time on the climbs, and get more of a time margin to be able to handle the risky stages better”.

In that quote, Dave Brailsford demonstrates why he is such a master of strategy. To ensure that Chris Froome stood on top of the podium in 2013, what he and Team Sky did was:

  • Diagnose the situation: by extensively analysing both Wiggins’s 2012 win and the proposed 2013 route
  • Identify a guiding policy: in this case adopting a more offensive approach, and in Froome they had a much more offensive rider than Wiggins
  • Execute coherent actions on individual stages of the race (and of course extensively behind the scenes). Adopting specific tactics for different stages based on their offensive style riding and in particular by attacking the hill climbs, they were able to take the minutes of their opponents just as Brailsford and his team had planned.


This post has been inspired by my own love for all things cycling but also because it dawned on me how close the analogies are between the achievements of Dave Brailsford and his riders, and business. Team Sky’s strategy and tactics in the last two Tours have been distinctively different, but both simple and highly effective.

Whether your discipline is sport, business or otherwise, good strategy is critical for success. Consider how a strategic approach could help you blow away your own competition and achieve your own success.

My next post considers what other lessons business can learn from British cycling.

My name is Richard Hughes-Jones. I am a Coach, Consultant & Lecturer who works with entrepreneurs. My clients are CEOs and leadership teams of startup and scale up businesses. I am an Associate Lecturer at the London College of Fashion and retained Consultant to the Centre for Fashion Enterprise.

I previously gained over a decade's experience as a Deloitte management consultant and HM Treasury civil servant. My full profile is on LinkedIn and you can also find me on Twitter. If you'd like to receive my book reviews you can sign up below.