Chris Froome has refused to offer his backing to Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford, according to reports in the Telegraph and the Daily Mail, which say the three-time Tour de France winner refused to add his name to a statement of support that all riders were asked to sign.
Cyclingnewsbroke the news this week that some Sky riders had discussed asking Brailsford to resign and, while many riders took to Twitter to simultaneously voice their support for their boss, Froome spoke volumes by remaining silent.
The Telegraph and Mail reports add weight to the suspicion that the 31-year-old has lost faith in the embattled Brailsford, who has found himself under increasing pressure as damaging details about the team's medical practices continue to emerge from the investigation into the medical package – alleged to contain triamcinolone – delivered to team doctor Richard Freeman at the 2011 Criterium du Dauphine and administered to Bradley Wiggins on the team bus.
Doubts over Froome's support for Brailsford surfaced in January, shortly after the boss had claimed the package contained the legal decongestant fluimucil – a claim that no one has yet been able to substantiate. At a press gathering in Monaco, Froome was repeatedly asked if he still had faith in Brailsford's ability to champion the team's credibility, to which he replied "That's not really for me to say" before switching the focus to his own personal credibility.
He was one of 10 riders from Team Sky's roster of 28 not to voice his support for Brailsford in the wake of the Cyclingnews story, which came on the back of a damaging week for the team. Further details of the medical practices emerged at a parliamentary committee, where the Chair Damian Collins MP described the credibility of Team Sky and British Cycling as being "in tatters".
While a flurry of tweets appeared affirming '100%' faith in Brailsford, Froome only tweeted about his latest dinner in South Africa, where he has been training.
"The ultimate objective was to issue a statement signed by all the riders but Sky bosses could not go through with the plan, knowing that Froome's omission would be a further source of embarrassment for Brailsford, who, by his own admission, has handled the crisis badly," writes Matt Lawton, who originally broke the 'jiffy bag' story, in today's Mail.
- Cooke 'sceptical' about Team Sky's use of TUEs and Wiggins' jiffy bag
- Brailsford says mysterious package contained legal drug Fluimucil
- Bradley Wiggins doctor pulls out of anti-doping select hearing due to illness
- Timeline of UKAD investigation into Team Sky and British Cycling
- UKAD launch damning attack on Team Sky and British Cycling over medical practices
- Brailsford: Freeman gave me an injection of triamcinolone
- Bradley Wiggins' doctor provided Team Sky staff with triamcinolone
The crisis has deepened in the past week, and last Wednesday's parliamentary committee meeting saw UK Anti Doping's chief executive Nicole Sapstead expose an alarmingly lax approach to medical records at Sky and British Cycling, with no documentation to prove what was in the jiffy bag. She also revealed that Freeman had ordered 'far more' triamcinolone – the corticosteroid used controversially, but legally, by Wiggins under Therapeutic Use Exemption ahead of three Grand Tours – than would have been required for one rider.
It then emerged that Freeman had injected members of staff at Team Sky and British Cycling, including Brailsford, with the corticosteroid, and that other Team Sky doctors had intervened to lock him out of WADA's admin system to prevent him from applying for a fourth TUE for Wiggins ahead of the 2013 Tour of Britain. The Sunday Times also revealed that Freeman had taken delivery of a batch of testosterone – banned in and out of competition – patches, which former head of medicine Steve Peters claimed were sent in error and returned immediately.
Team Sky issued a statement on Tuesday in a bid to debunk what it sees as inaccuracies that have emerged over the course of the crisis, and with it set out a 14-point outline of how its medical and anti-doping practices have evolved since the team's inception in 2010. In the statement, Brailsford acknowledged that mistakes were made but staunchly stuck up for his team's credibility and anti-doping stance.
Team denies report that Sky will withdraw backing
As well as the increasing doubts surrounding the tenability of Brailsford's position as team manager, the affair has also raised the question of whether Sky will continue its support of the team beyond the current season in light of the ongoing negative publicity.
An article in Wednesday's edition of L'Équipe, entitled 'The sky falls on Sky,' reported that Sky that "will withdraw as sponsor at the end of the season," but suggested that Brailsford may already have found a replacement backer.
Team Sky have since refuted the story. A spokesperson for the team told Cyclingnews on Wednesday that there was "no question" of Sky withdrawing its backing of the team, as the media corporation is not merely the sponsor of the team, but its owner. The team is 85% owned by Sky and 15% owned by 21st Century Fox.
Unlike in the case of a more traditional team sponsor who signs a fixed-term agreement with a holding company that then manages a cycling team on its behalf, there appears to be, publicly at least, no set date at which Sky's involvement with the team automatically comes up for renegotiation.
"It doesn't work like a sponsorship agreement that ends at a certain point," the spokesperson said. "There's a misconception that Sky is just a name on the shirt, but it's a completely different relationship.”
On Tuesday, the chairman of the Team Sky board Graham McWilliam – who has refused interview requests from Cyclingnews in recent weeks – tweeted his support for Brailsford and the team: "For record, TS Board & Sky are 100% behind team and Sir Dave Brailsford as its leader. We look forward to many more years of success."