Sunday, November 22, 2009

Careless Whisper

I was prowling about in a shop yesterday lunchtime – a rummage around that included hunting down as-kitsch-as possible Christmas presents for two of my grandchildren; it not only being the start of the customer-bump-and-grind season but with the added rationale that they’d already have every slab of Lego or cuddly toy they could ever wish for.

Items X and Y – registering high on the kitsch-thermometer – were finally selected and, with my customer-barging tolerance levels already stretched to breaking point, it became time to stand patiently and await one’s turn at the till.

The summons forward was ushered in with a cry of, ‘will the next guest step forward, please’.

Oh dear, the hapless being behind the counter has been indoctrinated into the criminal school of bollox-talk – doubtless his / her overlords have decided, by calling us customers ‘guests’, we’ll all feel that much better about the entire shopping experience.

Long, long ago a similar corporate indoctrination was taught (if memory is correct, it emanated from Japan) – primarily in building societies (nowadays banks) and a manner of employee-training-as-propaganda spread mercilessly whereby personnel started to address each other with team-analogies… for example, staff weren’t… errr… staff… nope, they were players. And they didn’t work within a branch office (for example) but… in a team. One didn’t have a boss or a supervisor or a manager…. but a team-leader.

Not only were hapless customers back then forced to come to grips with this new, entirely meaningless, terminology but that entire corporate, quasi-motivational, pop-psycho-babble has bolted like a recently gelded stallion through the open stable door to become prevalent in way too many lives.

Does this make me cross...? No, not particularly since, by and large I either ignore it totally or... find it’s inherent absurdity side-splittingly funny.

And so, besides this weekend’s shopping experience, it was difficult to avoid the recent verbiage uttered from the lips of a bloke who, quite frankly, should know a lot better – the Holy Grailsford.

Who he..? David John Brailsford CBE is – and, its only right and proper to address him by his correct title – British Cycling’s Performance Director and nowadays Team Principal of the fledgling Team Sky.

His (well-deserved) honour was upgraded from the MBE he was awarded after British Track Cycling’s Olympic success in Athens to a CBE in the 2009 New Year’s list following the same teams astounding haul of precious metal in China.

So far, so superb.

And, this weekend, his new Sky-baby is getting ready to divest itself of swaddling clothes at its Madchester home and preparing to fly (or, perhaps… roll… would be the better adjectival word).

And, given that this is a project which has caught the attention of not just British National media but similar around the world, the shaven-headed Companion Of The British Empire (next step arise Sir Dave..?) has been indulging in a few interviews… after all, he’s the team’s head-honcho and… well… who better to outline the inner workings, the team’s aims and aspirations and… all that sort of stuff?

The only problem is, DB (CBE)… has miscued disastrously.

Actually, as this Voltaire on its windswept grassy knoll sees it, he’s scuffed it toward the side-netting rather too many times over the past couple of months; in fact – ever since the much-heralded initial rider-announcement that was completely bodged by entirely school-boy PR in September.

Lets back-track a bit, shall we?

Because, the mis-fires have been occurring with alarming regularity since then – with, for instance, all of the news regarding rider / staff acquisitions emanating from 3rd party resources – as opposed to the mother-source. The most recent example being the disclosure of two (middle-ranking) Italians signing on the dotted being broken by the widely-read Italian sports daily, La Gazzetta Dello Sport and immediately fed out by (arguably the widest read cycling news portal globally) and all across the Twitter network.

Indeed - Sky's own announcement of Sean Yates' recent appointment as one of their Director Sportif's came hours after every other cycling site and news feed had published the information. No understanding of how the media works in the 21st Century - sadly so.

Even more recently has been the heavily rumoured transfer of rising British starlet Ben Swift from the ranks of Katusha to Team Sky… widespread published rumours that have reverberated across Europe fed by angry comments by Katusha’s own head-honcho, Andre Tchmil saying – ‘I think it is very bad that a new team like Sky goes around thinking they can buy up riders who are under contract. I’ll say once and for all, Swift will be part of Team Katusha in 2010. He’s not for sale. I don’t sell my riders’.

Be that as it ultimately may be, its also interesting to note that, with reference to the same story, stated – ‘as we go to press on this the Team Sky press office remains uncontactable… read in to that what you may’.

Then, factor in Wiggo-gate – the will he ride for Sky / won’t he remain with Garmin with regard to Bradley Wiggins – a (presumed contractual) stalemate that’s become as soap-opera a saga and about as annoyingly drawn out as one of East Enders’ ghastly plot-lines on TV.

Whether cycling’s own Weller-Rhys Ifans’ look-a-like does or doesn’t matters not – because, as a sheer PR exercise, Team Sky have played this about as poorly as it gets.

And, that’s simply been fuelled by the latest ‘revelations’ from the Holy Grailsford which have caused the vast majority of cycle-sport fans who really do care about Team Sky and the success thereof (and I’m holding my hand up here as one of the many) to absolutely shudder.

Which brings us neatly back to (one of) the latest interviews.

So… let’s consider a few choice quotes drawn from chief sports’ writer Owen Slot’s article in this Saturday’s Times – that’s the thunderer of London for the uninitiated – under the headline of: Team Sky’s secret weapons? Ants, chimps and crowns, but riding is not essential.

‘If individuals feel valued, they will be far more productive in their work’

– ummm… yes… gosh and golly… that’s truly ground-breaking thinking isn’t it…. Actually, this Voltaire tends to think that that sort of a man-management (whoops, person-management just in case my Voltaire gets disconnected for being politically incorrect) ethic has been in play for ohhhhhhhhh, lets see… absolutely aeons.

‘I’ve got two bus drivers from Formula One. I don’t want to see your driving. Think about it. We give the pre-race team-talk in the bus, that is our dressing room. The drivers take us to the start of the race in the morning and that’s where the nerves come on, where the riders get edgy. I said to the drivers, ‘What I do want to know is what you are like under pressure, when you are tired do you shout and scream?’

– Errrr… wow… that’s revelatory. Why, for example, would a bus-driver be tired in the morning, en route to a race? Shouldn’t they / wouldn’t they have had a good night’s sleep? Further to which, bus-drivers work to rigorous time-behind-the-wheel strictures.

The bus as the dressing room – sure, cycling is, after all, rock ‘n roll on wheels. Besides, a good bus driver is actually way more than someone who can get the assembled to place X at appointed time Y – in any event, going from A to B is guided by sat-nav nowadays (whoa, did anyone say the word Garmin?). The main attribute for a good bus-driver in this day and age is to combine invisibility and reliability with being the fount of all local knowledge.

What, however, is more concern-making is Grailsford’s use of I – the first person singular… perhaps this Voltaire is missing a fundamental point but… isn’t this about the team as a whole?

‘One of the first things we’ll do is ask riders to create their own rules. Shove them in a room: ‘Can you discuss how you want to be treated, can you discuss timings of the bus? If someone is late, what do you want us to do? I can promise you they will be more extreme than we would be. They’ll say, ‘If someone’s not there, we go.’ I guarantee.'

– Phew… that’s… ground-breaking thinking too. Actually – and here’s another rock ‘n roll metaphor, the real responsibility is down to Sky's tour manager equivalent to ensure that shaven-legged thoroughbred Z is on the bus and… on time. Does Grailsford really believe that Tour-contender H, being three minutes late for the scheduled departure of said-bus, would lead to a strict on-time roll-out with the end-result being Sky’s team-leader is left behind to make his own way to the start line? In a realistic world, that’s hardly going to happen… is it?

‘We are not malicious or vindictive, but if anyone’s behaviour is not allowing us to get where we want to be, we’ll give them a chance to modify it and, if they can’t, then they are out.’

– Right… so that’s a case of do it like we say and, if you don’t, then fuck-off… is it? That – to this Voltaire – smacks of despotism… and that equates to being dictatorial; hmmm – does the man behind all those glittering medals at recent Olympic Games wear Rasputin’s cloak? Is he, in reality, something of an autocrat?

‘Ants don’t worry, they operate like a fantastic team, they accept obstacles and deal with them in a positive manner, they don’t complain and remain positive. An ant doesn’t work on emotion, is proactive and always chooses the ant role.

– Ahhh… yes… now, that’s truly a magical quote; a prince among prose-thieves.

The team principal of – arguably – the most important and certainly the most interesting British sports’ formation this century… can not only talk to… but… is able to get inside the mind of… a metaphorical ant.

Y’know… this quack-religious, attention-seeking jargon simply doesn’t wash…

Can you imagine one of the director-sportif’s in the team car, waffling in like-manner and issuing instructions to his riders, as they’re approaching a major col in the Pyrenees… it’d probably go something like this: We need to seamlessly engage with our key-enabler and think out of the box proactively to leverage the initiative that RadioShack and SaxoBank are implementing.

Strong leadership – oh yes… Visionary – oh, absolutely… Single-minded – but, of course.

Nevertheless, it should never be forgotten that there is a fine line between megalomaniacal (corporate) vision – which can so easily lead to hallucination – and reality.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Blackberry Way

The voice coming through the public address system is honey-toned, calm and reassuring.

‘Ladies and Gentlemen, my name is Silk and I’m your senior cabin-attendant this afternoon. The Captain has advised, due to severe weather conditions at our destination, that we will be remaining on the ground for…’

Here, the amateur-thespian within the afore-mentioned 'Silk' inserts a melodramatic pause; the drama ahead clearly to be played out to the maximum. Part-repeating herself, she continues: ‘We shall be remaining on the ground for a further fifty-one minutes.’

Another farcical pause ensues – presumably to allow us all time to admire Captain Fantastic’s stop-watch precision regarding the hold-up – before her pearly-dew-drop-vocal chords announces that ‘due to statutory regulations’ no ‘refreshments’ will be served during the enforced wait to become airborne but…

‘For those of you who have cellular devices, feel free to use them at this time.’

The elation felt within seat 24D is palpable.

Across the aisle to my left, the lady occupying the window seat is first out of the traps… within moments she’s loudly engaged in discussing a recent appendectomy in all its most delicate detail.

Other ‘phones further up-front squawk into life; within this enclosed space, a cacophony of personalised ring-tones abounds… ranging from Celine Dion trilling a chorus to one of her songs (a perennial favourite of mine) to the sound of a cat miaowing…

The man of middle-age at eleven o’clock (tick tock) of me, meaning he’s occupying seat 23C, ingratiatingly announces himself as Howard to the small child seated across the aisle from him and, thus directly in front of me.

The child makes no response so the mother, seated next to her, informs Howard – in an equally booming voice – that said four year old is known by the unlikely name of… Madison.

Doubtless the parents were of Posh / Becks persuasion – naming their offspring from where the child was conceived… which’d mean nooky was conducted in either the boon-docks of Madison, Wisconsin or somewhere along Madison Avenue, NYC.

Madison’s father is seated immediately across the aisle to my left. He has been forcibly placed there by the voluble mother who has forcefully informed the woman chattering gaily about the appendectomy that he (that’s how she refers to her husband) has to sit next to an ancient lady who’s make-up style has been derived from the Bette Davis school; all plucked eyebrows and severity of lip-line. As appendectomy-lady moved seat, the Bette Davis look-a-like turned a strange shade of orange, looking like she may expire any moment.

Madison herself, however, proves not terribly talkative so Howard unrolls his laptop and starts editing what I presume to be a speech he’ll be giving in the next few days: glancing down the aisle, I can’t help but notice that he seems to be a leading expert in the effects of Methane production in animals.

Meanwhile, the appendectomic conversation three seats and an aisle away from me has reached a crescendo of intimacy – signalling it is time to retreat under the noise-abating headphones and get back to my book; a fabulous yarn called Requiem concerning the end of The Crusades and Edward Longshanks war on Scotland and William Wallace in particular thereby tickling all of my Mediaeval leanings.

However, the next page-turn leads me into a sombre dissertation on the precise levels of pain that a prisoner banged up in the Tower of London would undergo in 13th century England when sentenced to being hung, drawn and then… quartered.

Mediaeval agony or modern day aural torture – time to unfurl the trusted i-Touch and lurch into a tune-shuffled world of my own; one that’s not peopled by bloody Celine Dion ring-tones – a smattering of operatic choruses before Massenet’s exquisite Meditation of Thais cuddles up neatly to some of Malcolm MacLaren’s sadly-unheralded ambient musings that dovetail tidily into The Maps’ own quasi-Icelandic ambionic delights.

Which all goes swimmingly until a larger than life figure hoves into view, waddling up the aisle – her posterior (which is the size of Bermuda) brushing each arm-rest at the same time - while her lips have been not only rouged but glossed into an unlikely shade of crimson, one that my Dad would have described as being the colour of a Baboon’s arse. Her eye-make-up is synchronised to a rather fetching shade of powder-blue.

The name on her lapel reads… Silk… and I’m informed that, since we’re about to get airborne, I have to unplug.

As we bump, bore and claw our way upwards, my own musings lead me to thinking about this emerging cellular-device-dominated generation.


Lets just imagine that one is pretty high up the food chain in corporation X and been working like the proverbial for the preceding Y months – putting in a heck of a lot of long, seriously stressful, hours and therefore badly in need of a break; a few days away from the hurly-burly and the inherent pressures of modern-day commercial life.

Time away to recharge the batteries with a spot of good, old fashioned, R+R somewhere warm, tinged by palm-trees, fabulous food and beautiful sunsets.

Everyone at your office knows you’re off on a short holiday; one’s in-bound email alert has been set to something along the lines of: ‘I’m away from my desk until such and such a date and will respond to you at that point.’

Cases have been packed and re-packed; swimmies and sun-cream are to hand, the far horizon beckons.

So far, so splendid.

However… such is the dominance of the Blackberry / i-Phone / HTC / Palm – take your pick… it means that, however one wants or tries to unwind – nowadays, its harder than ever.

Because… the time to chill-out and switch-off in this cellular-device-led age has been set by the bullying bosses and un-thinking power-brokers… to… zero.

And, man / woman management is in crisis-mode.

Harsh economic times mean jobs are at a premium equals bosses have become empowered by… fear.

In any situation you can conceive, look around you… people are checking their mobile e-mail. From lifts (elevators) to the beach; from restaurants to dinner at home; from the back of a taxi to a ‘plane just landed. Shopping and what happens.. one constantly collides with militant mothers weaving from one aisle to another, their eyes diverted to the small screen. In any municipal park you can think of... Paris, London, Cairo, New York, Cape Town or Melbourne... joggers are jogging and runners are running but... next time you're out and about viewing the self-same, just have a look to see how many stop to check... their mail.


Our new economic, mass-communication-led, culture has bred a work-ethic of fear of being out of touch.

And an even worse fear of... not being seen as ‘available’ twenty-four hours a day.

Both are pressure-fears of ‘if I’m not then person X might be’ which equals… the bosses know you’re cornered, therefore they – unthinkingly and entirely unreasonably – believe they own you and your time.

No matter that one’s in-bound e-mail alert has been set as it has – messages (no matter how trivial) still keep popping up.

No matter that one is attempting to enjoy the pleasures of a pair of dolphins frolicking under a tropical sunset, there is always someone trying to reach you – most often on a inconsequential issue that can, quite properly, be solved / sorted out on one’s return.

No matter that human nature dictates that any person needs to recharge overwrought life-batteries, work in the 24 hour-a-day, 21st Century now has assumed a level of self-righteous importance whereby bosses (surreptitiously) demand that one keeps in touch.

As handy a device as the crackle-berry or its many variants are, its building a culture that is slowly but definitely signalling the end of an epoch.

And, in this Voltaire from its position on the windswept prairie’s view… its ushering in an era that is unbalanced.

Mass-communication is absolutely brilliant but it should never, ever, result in dis-respect.

Lest we forget.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Shout To The Top

The room is stark… not Phillipe Starck but just downright plain; unadorned ordinary with cold (not chilled) white-washed walls unencumbered by pictures or, indeed, imagery of any kind.

There are two windows but only one will open to little more than a crack; the air inside smells suspiciously of cleaning fluids.

There are two beds, neither double nor single but somewhere in-between; both are topped by sterile –probably disinfected – lightweight duvets, encouragingly turned back. No chocolate on the pillow though – this is low grade but high rent.

The television – seriously hi-definition and gadget friendly – is positioned high on the wall facing the beds – presumably such that one can lay back and enjoy all on offer.

The remote control is, helpfully, hidden in a jar on a tray next to the orange-brown coffee cups and miniscule plastic milk containers. Hunting high and low, it takes me fifteen minutes before I’m able to locate said gadget. Attempting to operate it, I wish that I’d listened more carefully instead of dreaming about bike races and music while studying O-level physics at school.

Access to all of the premium channels (with premium meaning low-grade pornography) is set at a premium price – I know this because, flicking through the channels with only the remote to guide me, I click on a button I don’t mean to and am but a hair’s breadth from adding a premium charge to a room already costed-out at pure rip-off. Only nimble dexterity of thumb and forefinger leads me back to the remake of a remake of a film I saw when I last wore short trousers.

The bathroom is next door and looks (and feels) like its been used by a generation of corpulent business men who, presumably, have lain back on one of the two medium sized beds having chalked up a further premium charge to their expense accounts that, ultimately, will be filed by Miss Jones at the outer limits of her desk under… miscellaneous. Oh, how they must miss their wives and loved ones.

This noble emporium has, however, announced itself as being wi-fi friendly; ahhh… splendid – that means I can connect to the world wide west and, at the very least, keep in touch with loved ones as well as stay on top of inbound work-related ‘stuff’.

Well travelled machine is plugged in; it sparks into life in an entirely satisfying manner yet… falls at the first hurdle.

Oh yes, it can see the connection but until I enter a password it’ll accept, I won’t be able to travel behind this particular iron curtain.

Fabulous, its late night, my stomach is reacting volubly and not particularly noiselessly from a rather splendid meal from the Indian sub-continent partaken with my lawyer and all I really want to do is log on, collect, respond and log-out.

But in order to do that, I’ve got to jump this unforeseen, technical, Beechers Brook.

Trudge downstairs and request the access key from the disinterested bloke behind the desk.

You want how much… for how long…?

An old fashioned audible gasp escapes while displaying my best quizzical expression – which, in turn, renders both eyebrows shooting north beyond the hairline.

This ‘charge’ of theirs is about as absurd as those rumoured to be put into place by Ryan Air who, pundits claim, will shortly (if they’re not already) be requesting their customers to pay to use a lavatory whilst mid-air. Heaven help any passenger who is low on change after eating a dodgy prawn sandwich.

Disinterested bloke displays no customer-care attributes whatsoever as – reluctantly – a note is fluttered across the desk toward him. Very little coinage comes back by way of change.

A middle-aged, slightly paunchy, German is standing beside me; he too requires www access… not only is he deeply shocked at the price quoted but actually kicks the counter in frustration whilst loudly airing his Teutonic views at the hotel’s swindling attitude – clearly this doesn’t happen in Hamburg… or Bonn… or even Munchengladbach – curiously enough twinned with the Franco / Belgian city of Roubaix; whose own stadium is home, of course, to the final pedal-strokes of the Queen of Single Day Classic cycle races.

So here’s the thing…

This place I’m staying in is a known brand the world over; their logo instantly recognised by millions. I’d not intended Room 203 as an overnight stop – indeed, I’m only here ‘cos the lady of the house in which I was to stay has unexpectedly succumbed to a bizarre form of skin-eating disease…

Be that as it may, I’m in a needs-must situation but, even so… is it really necessary for corporate brand X to dupe its customers?

It’s a brand that, at one time, was synonymous with a certain level of quality; now it (to this Volatire’s thinking) just equates to… how much can we milk our customers for.

See… I would argue that a brand has a certain responsibility and, when brand X or Y gets complacent then their brand-loyal customers don’t just get lost and confused… they ultimately move on… to a brand that, essentially, does what it says on the tin.

The old adage rings true: it takes a long old time to cement a reputation and, it takes but moments to smash it to smithereens.

Alison Bain, (one of) if not the head honcho of American Express puts it like this: "Providing superior customer service that goes above and beyond the norm is something we place considerable emphasis on within our organization."

And… given how fickle customers are nowadays allied o how fed up most of the world’s populace have become with traditional forms of advertsing, this seeking out of new ways to acquire ‘brand awareness’ is central to most companies thinking nowadays; not just the cementing of brand X but taking it to new levels – as emphasised by BP’s top-chap, David Bickerton who states, “The importance of brand coherence across geographic boundaries and across internal and external audiences contributes to building a successful brand."

Using a different form of corporate gobbledygook-speak, Erich Stamminger, top terrier within the Adidas Group says: "We have a clearly defined brand mission, vision, and values. Authenticity plays a vital role here... It builds trust and credibility with the consumer and provides the basis for identification with your brand, and it must never be jeopardized."

Which, in a slightly circuitous manner, brings us to sport on two wheels, peopled by blokes with heavily muscled, shaven legs who whizz up hill and down dale and over unforgiving terrain at impossible speeds while, at the same time, being emblazoned by tight-fitting outfits proclaiming the names of sponsoring companies. Yep… cycle-sport is one of those rarities within sports sponsorships whereby the team is known by the name of the sponsoring company.

Now, just have a wee think here… that doesn’t occur in Soccer… nor in Baseball… not in Hockey (ice or otherwise)… neither does it in Show-Jumping, Athletics, Rugby, Fencing, Volleyball, Squash, Badminton, Curling, Ten-Pin Bowling, Tennis (table or lawn), Synchronised Swimming or even Welly-Throwing… does it?

Nope… Formula One is… to a degree… the only exception…

Which, essentially means cycle-team-sponsorship is a pretty beezer form of marketing device. Added to which, its been well proven over the years that a company which puts in amount Z more often than not, sees return Z+++ multiplied as a return on their investment.

Equals… come 2010, two of the latest companies to throw their sponsoring hats into the collecting ring are… RadioShack and… Sky.

Now, lately, all of the debate – most especially with the formation of the latter team – has centered around the inclusion or otherwise of Britain's cycling’s mod-meister, Bradley Wiggins.

So… while having a bit of a squint at this… lets also consider that within the context of the whole.

Wiggins is currently under contract to the US based squad, sponsored by the multi-media Sat-Nav developer, Garmin. He, through barely-veiled comments, has made it plain - using Soccer parlance - that to achieve his aspirations (bettering his 2009 4th place finish in the Tour de France) means he’d need to move to what he’s termed the Manchester United of cycling, stating he’s currently riding for the equivalent of Wigan Athletic.

To a UK registered team, Wiggins has clear value – via his multiple Olympic Gold Medal’s and, now, with his just-off-the-podium Tour finish, he’s one of only three (British) household names associated with cycling.

Cycling aficionados would argue strenuously that other names are well-known but, pose the question to the man or woman in the high-street and the facts emerge: the only recognisable names would be the lad Cavendish, the recently knighted (Sir) Chris Hoy and… Wiggo.

Cav-lar is (for a wide variety of reasons) unattainable for Sky until at least 2011; Hoy only competes on the track and is, already, a de-facto team-member since British track-cycling is sponsored by Sky-HD… which leaves the team in an almost must-have position in their quest for Wiggo.

Garmin (headed by the savvy Jonathan Vaughters) obviously knows all of this – equals, the lawyers on both sides are now involved and sums approaching the million pound mark as a contractual buy-out are being freely bandied about via Twitter and any other rumour-mill one feels like consulting.

But… what is the true significance and why, for a start, are Sky involved in the first place?,

The real benefit of a Wiggo buy-out to Sky is (to this Voltaire on its grassy-knoll) obvious but… its not the equally obvious comments that have, thus far, been proffered.

The value is the increased media exposure in Sky’s key markets (the UK being just one) and taking their five-year plan forward… It is, put simply, all about global brand awareness.

Because, lest we forget, modern-day cycle-sort is all about the furthering of that.

The Murdochs (via News Limited in Australia which owns over 170 Newspapers alone ‘down under’ / News Corp globally as well as Fox TV etc) aren't in this for self-agrandisement; they've recognised that cycling (and branding thereof) is a key, cost-effective, manner in which to promote their 'products'. Its also hits the ecological / green sweet-spot that translates into a corporate feel-good factor; plus, they’re targeting the youth-market and so, in a sense, Sky’s sponsorship of cycling is sound business strategy, psychology and brand awareness all rolled into one.

Therefore, while sporting considerations are, obviously, of paramount importance in (the make-up) of the fledgling Sky team, it is (has to be) also about their own markets and penetration thereof. Further to which, while Sky may purport to be a ‘British’ team, the reality is entirely different… it is (and has to be) international - witness the inclusion of Australians, Norwegians and Germans among others into the line-up for 2010.

Italy – as just one example, is a key Murdoch-territory… not so long ago, Italian premiere Berlusconi and Murdoch were buddying up (cf a fairly recent Time Magazine cover story)… of late, matters have soured – and the Italian stallion has decreed a twenty percent tax on Sky-Italia tv subscriptions since he’s woken up to the fact that Rai tv are swiftly becoming eclipsed. And, given that we’re in the realms of billions of Euros here, the sums aren’t insignificant.

Thus, is the most recent team news much of a surprise for the (perceived) British squad in that its has just been revealed that Sky have signed two mid-field Italians (fuelled initially by the signature chasing rumours valued at over a million for TdeF top ten finisher, Nibali). Why..? Its again obvious, they’ll be the spearhead for further incursions into that territory. Further to which, the Murdochs have recognised the Italians as sportive-passionata… and they recognise, perhaps more than many, the power of the people’s vote. Consider… the combination of The Sun newspaper and Thatcher and the war (for want of a better term) with Argentina… Oh, and who owns The Sun...?

As such, and given that both India and China are more on the Murdoch radar than is perhaps suspected… should we be surprised – in time – by..? This Voltaire wouldn't be in the least surprised...

Further to which… consider Garmin principal Jonathan Vaughter’s own comments made in the last couple of days concerning the recent date change for America’s (now) primary cycling event… "In my opinion I see the Tour of California as a Grand Tour. It’s the eighth largest economy, directly behind France. The race will be televised in over 100 countries and it has a broad following in Europe already. The concentration of these fantastic races in a 90 day period is pretty fantastic for the sport. You’re going to see the world’s eyes on cycling."

The world’s eyes… televised in 100 countries… Ahh yes, absolutely… The mondialisation… globalisation as another word to describe the same.

To quote Paul McGuinness, U2’s manager – ‘be the best band on your street, the best in your town, then be the best in your country… only after that, can you become the best on the world stage.’

And therefore Wiggo… and, in time, Cavendish… as sensational athletes that they undoubtedly are, still simply multi-million dollar / euro / pound early-move pedalling-pawns in the global game of brand-awareness chess.