Nicolas Portal has leapt to the defence of Bradley Wiggins and Dave Brailsford, insisting that Team Sky have not broken any rules and that the team's ethical standards are higher than those of the Movement for Credible Cycling (MPCC), but that cycling teams should work within the same guidelines.
Wiggins, Brailsford and Team Sky have come under fire in recent weeks with an UKAD investigation launched into allegations of wrongdoing surrounding the team and British Cycling.
This came after the Fancy Bears hacking group revealed that Wiggins had been granted three TUEs for triamcinolone acetonide before the 2011 and 2012 Tours de France, and the 2013 Giro d'Italia. Wiggins stated that the use of the drug was to deal with his allergies and, while no rules were broken, the episode raised questions over why such a powerful drug was needed and the timings of the administration.
Brailsford has come under fire, too, for his recollection of the facts surrounding a British Cycling coach travelling to the 2011 Criterium du Dauphine to deliver a medical package to Team Sky's doctor, Richard Freeman. It was originally claimed that the coach was meeting Emma Pooley near the race but she was hundreds of miles away at the time and competing in Spain. The coach has since told Cyclingnews that he was not aware of what was in the medical package and Brailsford has refused to confirm its contents.
"It's been pretty tough, especially in the UK," Portal, a directeur sportif at Sky, told Cyclingnews.
The Frenchman also suggested that cycling needs to look at its rules and that having one set of teams obey the WADA code and a second batch also voluntarily subjecting themselves to MPCC guidelines creates confusion. Team Sky is not part of the MPCC. Had they been, Wiggins, under MPCC rules, would not have been able to race straight after receiving his three TUEs.
"We've had support from the company but for us it's a shame because we try and do everything right and in the right way. Then you have this type of situation and you lose some courage. But I think it's time for the UCI or cycling in general to lead on what we want to do with this," said Portal.
"With Brad it's a different situation and I can't talk for him. I don't know what his health was but this was a medical decision and was validated by the UCI. If we have more questions then we need to maybe think about the rules. We try to do everything right, and we're not the only team to do so.
"Brad respected the rules. I don't think that there's a grey area in our team, that's for sure. I believe in what we're doing and most other teams too.
"When you don't want to be part of something it's because there is a reason and it's not always the easy one," he said of the MPCC.
"It's been funny how some teams have been members of the MPCC but then had an issue with cortisone and then left the system. Or they've raced riders when they shouldn't have. We need to have the same rules and that has to come from the UCI, from WADA. There shouldn't be a choice. I don't think it's healthy to have different groups."
Portal echoed Chris Froome's words from earlier in the week in which the three-time winner backed Brailsford to lead the team, and welcomed UKAD's investigation.
"I really supported Dave Brailsford when he didn't want to be part of the MPCC. We didn't really buy in and our standards were a bit higher but of course if you look back over the last few weeks you can say 'hey Nico you said this on Cyclingnews but look at what you've done' but I think, and I keep repeating, that we're really doing well and I believe in our team, staff and riders. Lets go through the investigation and then you'll find that out."