Twelve months on from a frosty and tense press conference in Dusseldorf for the 2017 Grand Départ, Dave Brailsford and Team Sky once again faced difficult questions on Wednesday over their credibility as another Tour de France came into focus.
In Germany last July, the central themes that trickled through Team Sky's pre-race press conference involved Jiffy bags, corticoid use and pressure from a DCMS select committee that later criticised the team over its poor record-keeping and use of TUEs to potentially boost performance rather than cure rider illness.
This time around, in a hanger on the outskirts of French town Saint-Mars-la-Réorthe, in the Vendée, 25km south of Cholet, Brailsford and Chris Froome faced the media over the clearing of Froome in his salbutamol case. With the ink on WADA's resolution still wet, and as more pieces of the jigsaw are systematically placed with sympathetic members of the media, one important factor remains whether Team Sky's evidence will be released.
On Monday WADA and the UCI confirmed that Froome's case had been dropped and that the adverse analytical finding (AAF) from the Vuelta would go no further. The rider was clear to race, and although questions have now arisen surrounding WADA's code and whether their salbutamol rules are fit for purpose, many on the sidelines have called for Team Sky to release the body of evidence they supplied to WADA.
Initially it looked as though the defence would be shared with the media, with Froome himself saying so in an interview earlier this week. However, Team Sky later clarified that Froome had been out training on the day of WADA's verdict and was not entirely up to speed on the situation. The team added that no further evidence would be shared with the public.
At the team's press conference, Brailsford looked to pre-empt the inevitable rush of questions by praising Froome and emphasising that he had always had his rider's back throughout the process. The team principal was also at pains to add that the AAF was not an AAF, but a 'presumed AAF' – a point that must have slipped through the cracks at the UCI who used no such term in their initial press release when announcing Froome's case back in 2017.
When specifically asked if Team Sky's submission to WADA would be released, and if not, why not, Brailsford struggled to give a comprehensive answer.
"A thing that influenced the decision was obviously our input," he said.
"The decision that's made and the information that WADA have… I understand what you're asking but I think it's up to them [Ed - WADA and the UCI] to explain all the information that they had in order to make their decision. Already some of the experts who have worked on the case are talking about some of the factors, and as it develops in the coming days, then more information will come out.
"If you take it all as one body of evidence, or one document, I don't think that there's one document as such that could be published. There are several different elements, some of which will find its way into the public. Some of it will be published as in journals.
"We haven't made the decision, Sky hasn't made the decision, Chris hasn't made the decision," Brailsford continued. "The people that have made the decision are the experts at WADA and the UCI, and they've taken everything from published and unpublished information that they have access to. They've taken an explanation off the back of a presumed AAF. It wasn't an AAF. People missed the subtlety of that point, and off the back of that they've made a decision, which we haven't influenced as such. The shadow of doubt shouldn't really exist if we trust in our authorities. That's what their job is: to look at that information and make a decision."
The same question was put to Froome, who could only add: "Most of it is in the public domain already."
The British rider has endured a difficult 12 months, but is seeking his fourth Grand Tour victory in a row. After being praised by his team boss, the four-time Tour winner admitted that the salbutamol case had been a significant burden to carry but that his focus was on the challenge of winning a record-equalling fifth Tour.
"It's been a challenging past nine months for me, and my family as well. I'm grateful that all the facts have been established and I can draw a line and move on. I knew that I didn't do anything wrong, and I'm extremely relieved, and it's a huge weight off my shoulders."
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