In early March, when Chris Froome's silences were speaking more forcefully than his words, it briefly seemed as though Dave Brailsford might not see another Tour de France as Team Sky manager. And so when Brailsford took a seat alongside Froome at the team's pre-race press conference in Düsseldorf on Wednesday evening, it might even have felt to him like a victory of sorts, yet the questions over his position persist.
Team Sky enters the Tour as the subject of a UK Anti-Doping investigation, which began last Autumn as an inquiry into the mysterious Jiffy Bag that was dispatched to Bradley Wiggins on the 2011 Critérium du Dauphiné. The inquiry has since revealed that the team ordered 55 doses of the corticosteroid triamcinolone between 2010 and 2013, most of which have not been accounted for.
Brailsford was asked if he was concerned that his credibility had been damaged by the litany of unflattering stories that have emerged over the past year, but he spoke around the question instead of answering it directly.
"Well, we're very focused on the race," Brailsford said. "As always, we've come here… I've been involved in this sport a long time and I've always tried to do it the way it should be done. I'm proud of what we've achieved in this sport and I'm proud to be sitting here."
Asked if he was still enjoying his role as Sky manager despite the furore of the past nine months or so and the allegations of wrongdoing, Brailsford was more forthcoming. He dismissed the idea that he was giving any consideration to stepping down from his post.
"I love it. Absolutely love it. I wouldn't want to be doing anything else," Brailsford said. "I'm going nowhere. I'll be here next year, the year after, the year after. I'm passionate about it. I'm pretty patriotic, we've built something from scratch including British Cycling, we're a global team with riders from different countries and it's a privilege to be amongst these lads. It's a privileged thing to be doing. I love it."
At the beginning of the press conference, Brailsford took the microphone and offered an awkward paean to his excitement on the eve of the Tour – “Of course, we're trying to win the Tour de France again with Chris, obviously, for the fourth time,” he said – but once the floor was opened to questions, it was clear that his opinions on the race were of only minor interest.
Brailsford's presence in the press centre in Düsseldorf marked a rare media appearance from a man who has seemed to retreat further from the public eye with each new revelation about the practices on his Sky team. There are pressing questions regarding his team's ethical stance that he has yet to answer.
In mid-March, for instance, the former Sky rider Josh Edmondson told the BBC that he had breached the UCI's no needles policy by injecting himself with vitamins and supplements in the summer of 2014, and claimed that Sky's management had chosen to cover up the violation rather than report it. Although Sky's former head of medicine Dr Steve Peters denied the allegation in March, Brailsford had never spoken publicly on the matter before Wednesday.
"I've spoken to the people I need to speak to about it," Brailsford said when asked for his version of events.
"Yes, but did it happen?" he was asked.
"Like I said, I've spoken to the people I need to speak to about it, the officials," Brailsford repeated.
"Did the team cover it up or not? It's a simple question," he was asked again.
"No," Brailsford said.
"Well, why couldn't you just say that the first time?" he was asked
"I've spoken to the people I need to speak to about it and that's it," Brailsford said. "I'm here out of respect to these guys on the Tour and we're here to talk about that, so…"
The terse back and forth was typical of Brailsford's dealings with the press over the duration of the UKAD inquiry into Team Sky, and his part in the final exchange of the press conference was of a similarly gnomic tone.
A reporter pointed out that in each of Sky's four Tour victories to date, Brailsford has found himself defending the good faith of his team before an often sceptical public. What is he going to say to them this time around, given the repeated blows to the team's credibility before the Tour has even begun at all?
"Believe in us, we're doing it the right way,” Brailsford said bluntly.
"And why should we believe in you?" he was asked.
"Because we're doing it the right way," Brailsford said.
"And how do you we know that?" he was asked.
"Well, over time: time will tell. We are doing it the right way," Brailsford said. "Let me tell you, we are doing it 100 percent the right way and we will continue to do it."
It's going to be a long Tour.
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