Opinion: Team Sky’s reputation shredded by Brailsford failure

Posted on: December 9th, 2016

A huge amount of damage has been done to Team Sky and the actions of team boss Dave Brailsford have dug the hole even deeper.


By Cillian Kelly

Having seen its reputation damaged in recent months by the TUE controversy and also the emergence of a medical ‘jiffy bag’ delivered to it on a race in 2011, Team Sky could help itself by opening up. But team principal Dave Brailsford has passed up the opportunity to answer one basic but key question.

Dave Brailsford once said: “If you’re a cheat, you’re a cheat, you’re not half a cheat. You wouldn’t say, ‘I’ll cheat here but I’m not going to cheat over there; I’ll cheat on a Monday but not on a Tuesday’.'”

He was responding to questions regarding his hiring of Dr Geert Leinders who is now banned for life from cycling having been found to have been involved in a team-wide doping program during his time at Rabobank.

The act of being a clean cyclist requires one to be clean 100 per cent of the time. If you get caught doping, you are not now 99 per cent clean. You are now 0 per cent clean.

It is logic which Brailsford could also apply to the idea of transparency; the notion of running a team which is considered transparent is not something which can be dipped in and out of.

You can’t be transparent on a Monday yet refuse to answer questions on a Tuesday and still claim to be a transparent team.

Team Sky and Brailsford have made the claim themselves that they are a transparent team.

Yet the question of just how open and honest this team is has been brought to the fore by the unwillingness of Brailsford himself to answer a simple question.

On 6th October, the story broke in the Daily Mail that Team Sky doctor Richard Freeman had received a package, delivered by British Cycling assistant Simon Cope, while the team was racing at the 2011 Critérium du Dauphiné which was won by Bradley Wiggins.

It’s a very simple question.

What was in the package?

In what Team Sky thought was probably an act of transparency, Brailsford agreed to be interviewed at length on The Cycling Podcast. But many of his answers were anything but transparent.

There was much discussion about the intricacies and moralities of applying for TUEs and whether they should be made public or not.

But then push came to shove. One of the interviewers, Lionel Birnie, asked Brailsford what was in the package.

With a couple of pauses for interruptions where Birnie re-iterated and re-worded his original question, Brailsford spoke for nine minutes using 1,541 words to take us on a confounding verbal rollercoaster and ultimately avoided answering this straight-forward question.


In happier times: Dave Brailsford with journalist David Walsh on stage 15 of the 2013 Tour de France to Mont Ventoux (Photo: Pete Goding)


A principal of a transparent team would have nothing to hide and nothing to fear by answering that question. A principal of a transparent team would have answered it.

So are Team Sky transparent? What have they actually done to support this idea other than repeat the mantra itself that they are what they say they are?

The team has released some of Chris Froome’s performance data on two occasions. They released some data to the coach and physiologist Fred Grappe during the 2013 Tour de France after which Grappe declared that Froome’s data seemed normal.

Team Sky’s own coach Tim Kerrison did something similar during the Tour of 2015 when he released some more of Froome’s data along with a discussion of the values.

There was also the Sergio Henao case in 2014 where the team determined that the Colombain’s blood values in out-of-competition testing were suspicious, drew this to the attention of the UCI and temporarily stopped him from taking part in any races.

Perhaps the most transparent act ever to have been performed by the team is when Chris Froome subjected himself to a series of physiological tests shortly after the 2015 Tour, after which the data was released along with an independent scientific analysis.

However, undergoing this testing was Froome’s own decision and had nothing to do with Team Sky itself.

Is that the extent of it?

When Team Sky were contacted and asked directly for a list of specific things that they have done in the name of transparency or have been done toward proving beyond doubt that winning the Tour de France can be done clean, they would not be drawn on providing such a list.

Perhaps this is understandable. If they provided such a list it would immediately give an explicit barometer of just how open they actually are. Whereas for a long time, for most people, this barometer has been set squarely on ‘transparent’ because that’s what the team have said. Proof by shouting.

The official response from Team Sky was that “we absolutely stand by our position of being an open and transparent team, and we believe our record supports that”.

Perhaps prior to this mystery package story, Team Sky could convince themselves, and the wider cycling world, that the above statement was true, but that cannot possibly be the case any longer.

Brailsford’s refusal to answer basic questions about this controversial matter is not open and it is not transparent.

There is now due to be a parliamentary hearing into this issue on 19th December at which Brailsford is expected to speak and presumably will face the question he has so far refused to answer.

There is also an ongoing UK Anti-doping (UKAD) agency investigation which Brailsford welcomes. When speaking to The Cycling Podcast, he said:

“I think it’s important that this is put to an independent third-party who can interview everybody and can absolutely determine if there was any wrongdoing or not and from my point of you that’s exactly what we need to happen.”

If what was in the package was no big deal then we would have been told its contents by now.

Since Brailsford clearly does not want the details of its contents to be made public, the most obvious explanation is that he would like UKAD to clear Team Sky of any wrong-doing in such a manner that they don’t actually have to reveal the details of the investigation and the contents of the package.

Meanwhile, the asterisk next to Bradley Wiggins’s career achievements is becoming more and more pronounced and the notion that Team Sky are an open and transparent team is becoming more and more laughable.

If you’re transparent, you’re transparent. You wouldn’t say ‘I’ll be transparent here, but I’m not going to be transparent over there’.

We’ve gone over two months without an answer now Dave. In the name of transparency, what was in the package?