View from the Academy
Keith Lambert is as fine a judge of young cycling talent as you could wish for.
Lambert is a former pro rider and now a coach at the British Cycling Academy, an institution whose graduates have become diners at professional cycling’s top table: Cavendish, Thomas, Stannard, et al.
Can the Academy’s success in developing those once fledgling talents be replicated?
“It can,” Lambert says, but cautiously. “We strive to do that, but we have to accept that they [Cavendish and co] are gifted riders. They just came together as a group at one particular time and Rod [Ellingworth, then Academy chief, now Team Sky’s performance director] did an amazing job with them.
“As coaches, you can only guide them so far. They’ve got to have the talent. You can’t turn a donkey into a thoroughbred race horse; you have to have the talent in the first place.”
British Cycling has turned talent spotting into an art form, if its processes can be judged by the calibre of its athletes.
While Lambert accepts that the Academy’s first intake were exceptional, the quality of subsequent finds, notably Simon Yates and Owain Doull, suggests the production line is unlikely to shut down anytime soon.
It’s not a guaranteed pathway to success, however. Fewer make it to the WorldTour or to British Cycling’s Podium Programme – those fighting for a place at the Olympic Games – than miss out.