Brailsford's failure to convince only fuels further scepticism

Opinion: Jeremy Whittle on Team Sky boss' appearance before MPs and that bitter sense of deja vu

As the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport select committee sat in the Thatcher Room at Portcullis House, Westminster, and struggled to digest being ticked off by Shane Sutton for their lack of patriotism, Dave Brailsford, three piece suited, cufflinks shining, strode in, hoping to restore calm.

That at least, after Sutton's petulant and misplaced tirade, seemed to be Brailsford's intention. His first conciliatory act was to give the world what it wanted by telling us what he believed was really in Bradley Wiggins' Jiffy bag. Unlike Sutton, Brailsford has become accustomed to public appearances before high profile audiences. He was suave, polite, studied, employing a relaxed and reassuring smile, as if he knew his every nuance would be scrutinised by body-language experts.

Like a reality TV host teasing his audience before revealing who'd been voted off, Brailsford paused before finally disclosing the contents of world sport's most famous Jiffy bag.

"It was Fluimucil for a nebuliser," he said nonchalantly of the package delivered to Wiggins in the French Alps, on the day he sealed victory at the 2011 Critérium du Dauphiné. In short, Team Sky had sent Cope to France with a decongestant. That, Brailsford explained, was what team doctor Richard Freeman had told him.

Temporarily, at least, that took the pressure off. But this was much more than simply a Q&A over an iffy Jiffy bag. This was a test of leadership, of attitude, of culture, of credibility. Although he was not on oath, this appearance, played out online and on TV, was Brailsford's SCA moment: was he still able to convince those that matter, those in power, that he could be trusted?

After all the speculation, Fluimucil – for a moment, at least – seemed a disappointingly banal explanation. But then, as the committee members, their researchers and the watching media googled around frantically, Brailsford's explanation began to unravel.

This product is freely available in France. It costs eight euros. There are four pharmacies within easy reach of Sestrière, where Team Sky were heading after the summit finish in La Toussuire. And it remains unclear if asthmatics such as Wiggins should even use it.

Was Brailsford really saying that Team Sky flew a drug, currently unlicensed in the UK, potentially unsuited to their star rider, costing a few euros, out to France to be delivered by hand by a British Cycling employee, when it was readily available nearby? It seemed so.

Brailsford was sticking to that story, hoping, presumably, that this would be the end of the matter. Yet, like British Cycling President Bob Howden and former Great Britain coach Sutton, Brailsford seemed unaware of the damage that had already been done.

A disaster for British Cycling

During his session, Howden, told by one committee member that the Wiggins story was "a disaster for you and British Cycling",  lacked authority and stature and had seemed ineffective from the off. MP Andrew Bingham waded in, mocking Howden's lack of knowledge of his staff's activities, and his inability to detail the contents of packages flown around Europe by British Cycling.

"I'm getting worried about our customs now!" Bingham snorted.

John Nicolson MP was next. "Was Simon Cope a travel ingénue?" Nicolson asked Howden archly.

It was left to committee member Nigel Huddleston to twist the knife. Turning to Howden, he said: "Are you up to this? If I was a corporate sponsor I'd be very concerned."

Howden and entourage left. After a brief lull, Shane Sutton arrived, alone. Asked about the damaging consequences of the saga, Sutton's bristling arrogance soon began to show itself.

"There's been no wrongdoing so I don't see how it can be damaging. We're policed better than anybody – we should be applauded for that."

What about the criticism voiced by some – Tom Dumoulin, for example, and even Chris Froome?

"A lot of people are jealous," Sutton said. "A lot of people are bitter, jealous of Sky's success."

Then he turned on the MPs.

"You, sitting there, being British," he told the committee, "you should be embracing the success they've achieved. They've all done it clean. You've actually upset me there. I'm astounded that you would take that sort of tone with me. I'm upset you question the integrity of the team."

The public will be Brailsford's judge and jury

After Sutton's tantrum, Brailsford's arrival, folder of notes under his arm, outwardly calmed the atmosphere.

"We have created a very clear policy on culture and anti-doping," Brailsford insisted, denying that his medics brokered too much power and might need reining in.

Yet in the aftermath of this televised hearing, and after watching the man who revolutionised cycling in Britain fend off any suggestions of wrongdoing, the public will ultimately be his judge and jury. Public opinion is a court that matters greatly to Sky's corporate sponsors and, as MP Huddleston suggested, after this hearing, their concerns may be reaching a tipping point.

But how did Team Sky get into this mess?

Brailsford, one minute matey, the next controlling and hostile, has only himself to blame for the communications cul-de-sac that Team Sky now find themselves in.

The latest claim made by the Daily Mail, that Brailsford tried to 'kill' the Jiffy bag story by offering alternatives to journalist Matt Lawton, reveals that combination of arrogance and naivety has long been a trait of the team in their dealings with the sports media.

Too many egos with conflicting interests were allied to a yo-yoing communications strategy, oscillating between 'let's-all-go-for-a-bike-ride' camaraderie and open hostility that combined four-letter phone calls with a dismissive cold-shoulder.

'Marginal gains' became a mantra that bamboozled the mainstream sports media in Britain, at least for a while, much as the American media had been starry-eyed over Armstrong during his heyday.

Outwardly, the talk of marginal gains – encompassing thickness of paint job to weight of pillow – suggested a zen-like calm within the team, fuelled by an obsession with excellence that left nothing to chance and no corners cut.

In the post Festina, post Puerto, post Landis, Rasmussen and Armstrong era, Brailsford's drive and enthusiasm ensured he was extended a huge amount of goodwill. As ever in this most romantic of sports, people wanted to believe. Brailsford answered that yearning. Cycling had changed, he said. New names could win and win clean. Brailsford's name, became, for many in Britain, a byword for credibility.

But then, this autumn, came the mysterious Jiffy bag and a saga of half-truths and miscommunication that culminated, on a foggy day in London, in yesterday's embarrassment – a televised hearing under intense scrutiny that failed to convince and that only fuelled further scepticism.

After that, and the further revelations over Brailsford's dealings with the Daily Mail, those who once championed him are now doubting him.

Those that once lionised him are now wondering how much more they don't know, while long-suffering fans of cycling are left, yet again, with a bitter sense of déjà vu.

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