Last Friday morning, Dave Brailsford made his by-now annual trip to the Sky Sports News studio in Isleworth to announce Team Sky's Tour de France line-up on its midday news bulletin. Given how Brailsford has studiously limited his public pronouncements and media engagement of late, the short, set-piece interview that followed the announcement elicited more interest than it would have done in years past.
Brailsford's appearance came a week after the publication of the final UK Sport report into the culture of fear and bullying at British Cycling – a report seemingly edited to excise all mentions of Brailsford's name – and a week ahead of a Tour de France where questions regarding the ethics and credibility of his Sky team will inevitably abound.
After a year of dismissing inquiries about the tenability of his role as Team Sky manager – and, for the most part, ducking interviews altogether, one might have expected Brailsford to have something of substance to say as he took to the airwaves. The questions and answers would certainly have been rehearsed, as the Sky Sports News presenter's hesitant introduction unwittingly confirmed: "Now Sir Dave, this is a more difficult question to come on to, that I know you'll be ready for."
Instead, Brailsford dusted off the same empty inanities and non-answers that he has been trotting out for the bones of a year or more.
"As in all walks of life, you have always got to look at yourself first, if you are the leader of an organisation," Brailsford said vaguely of the UK Sport report, and then added the catch-all kicker: "There are some lessons to be learned."
Before the House of Commons Select Committee hearing in December, for instance, Brailsford opined that there were "lessons to be learned" from the bizarre tale of Bradley Wiggins, Dr. Richard Freeman, Simon Cope and the infamous Jiffy Bag at the 2011 Critérium du Dauphiné. There were "lessons to be learned", too, back on the first rest day of the 2013 Tour. The expression seems to be a close cousin of "we're addressing the issue", the phrase du jour when Brailsford was attempting to defuse questions over his team's hiring of Dr. Gert Leinders back in 2012.
"From an investigation point of view, we will wait for the outcome of that," Brailsford said awkwardly. "But I am very confident there is no wrongdoing."
Owen Gibson of the Guardian summarised the situation neatly: "As Brailsford's matter-of-fact recollection of events proved, the facts are pretty clear – it is the interpretation of them that differs."
It was, in many respects, a waste of everybody's time, and Brailsford's attempt to depict the whole controversy as "a Fleet Street matter" was risible. "We can talk about cycling with the people who want to do cycling and then we can talk Fleet Street for the people who want to talk Fleet Street," he said weakly.
The questions are not going away
"When we go to the Tour de France every year, ever since we started, it has been a hostile environment for us as a team to go there and win the race, so I expect no difference in that sense," Brailsford said.
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