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The Sky’s the limit for us, believes Ellingworth
ROD Ellingworth uses the word crackers a lot.
The Tour de France is crackers, working with Mark Cavendish was crackers, remembering he is a Head of Performance Operations at Team Sky is crackers.
This is a man born in Burnley who didn’t make it as a professional cyclist and was turned down by the fire service at 27 leaving him with no money and no job.
Fastforward 15 years and Ellingworth is one of the most influential people in British Cycling.
When the Tour gets under way in Yorkshire this afternoon he will be in Sky’s team car monitoring the progress of Chris Froome as he bids to retain the title he won last year.
“It’s pretty exciting,” says 41-year-old Ellingworth. “It’s crackers really.
“I appreciate the enormity of the Tour in the UK and I think the people will have a great time and it will be a massive occasion. Anyone involved in cycling should go and watch it.”
But bringing the world’s biggest cycling race to these shores creates its own problems.
Ellingworth added: “I am not looking forward to it. You get into the rhythm in Europe with how it is run and it won’t be the same in the UK. Part of my job is to make sure everyone is in the same place and the right place at the right time.
“You do get used to the Tour because it is so big it is easy. If you stick to their rules and their ways of doing stuff then it is easy to get around. If you try and stand outside of that you would never get anywhere. In the Giro it is more of a free for all and you have to be on the ball in terms of the organisation.
“The Tour has its benefits. It is in your face every day. It gets quite tiring but you can’t forget where you are. I think we have almost taken it for granted that we will have the yellow jersey at the biggest bike race in the world. We have won the tour twice. It just seems like the right thing to be happening.
“You are planning for when you take the yellow jersey. You sit there and think ‘Blimey did we just win the yellow jersey?’ “It is so exciting. But whenever you have a long transfer to move from one country to another it makes my life a lot more complicated.”
It’s a life that started in Burnley where Ellingworth was born before his family moved to Grantham in Lincolnshire when he was three. Cycling was in his family’s blood, his dad Jeff was a cyclist while his brother Richard also rode.
“My dad was involved in Clayton Velo,” Ellingworth explains. “I don’t thing he founded it, I always thought he did and then he told me that he didn’t. He was there early on though.
“My dad has always been a big character in any cycling club he has been in.
“Cycling was a massive part of his life then and then we moved to Grantham. I always enjoyed racing around Burnley. I remember riding the Clayton Velo Spring Classic and I won it. It was always a big target because of where it was.
“My parents moved to Burnley because my dad was in the fire brigade and he was an on-site mechanic.
“We were based in Burnley and I was born there and I was there for three years. There are a few friends who my dad keeps in contact with and sees every now and again.”
It is Manchester where Ellingworth calls home now and he is based at British Cycling headquarters at the city’s velodrome.
And it from there that he has helped mastermind the success story of Team Sky having been involved since the start. Prior to that Ellingworth worked with the country’s academy track program and has been hailed as a huge influence in the careers of Mark Cavendish, riding the tour for Omega Pharma QuickStep, and Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas among others.
Having made the switch to the road with Team Sky and Sir Dave Brailsford, Ellingworth has been at the heart of professional cycling in this country.
He will be hoping to celebrate a third straight Tour victory three weeks from now. British cyclists won precisely none of the previous 98.
Team Sky has selected a strong squad united behind holder Froome meaning that East Lancashire’s own Bradley Wiggins missed out on selection.
So what does Ellingworth make of the rivalry behind the two?
“We cannot get away from the fact that we have two guys that want to win and when you have both on the same team it makes life quite difficult,” said Ellingworth.
“It is a problem, and a good problem to have. Of course all the guys have a go at each other when they are frustrated with each other. Some times it is not the best place to be and the most comfortable place to be.
“But you are missing something or you wouldn’t be at the top of the game if you were all happy all the time.
“The two of them are fine and they will race together and they will get on with it. They are both good bike riders and they both get paid to ride their bike.”
Froome will start the Tour as favourite with the weight of a nation’s expectation on his shoulders. Ellingworth knows the laid back Kenyan-born 29-year-old will cope.
“Chris will be very competitive,” he said.
“There is no reason why not. You have to accept that because he won the tour last year those winter periods in October through to December is compromised doing appearances and things so his start to the season was a bit steadier. I don’t think it took to long to get back to where he wants it to be.”
And his own thoughts on the next three weeks?
Ellingworth added: “It will be tough but I love it. I love working at British Cycling.
“It’s a pretty exciting place to be. It’s crackers really.”