Cyclingnews has learned that several Team Sky riders have held discussions over whether to approach Dave Brailsford and ask him to step down.
The Team Sky manager has been at the centre of a major controversy over the team's medical practices. UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) have launched a full investigation into whether the team and British Cycling committed a doping violation in 2011 when a medical package was transported from Manchester to the Criterium du Dauphine in 2011 to treat Bradley Wiggins.
According to a source among the riders, the continued questions over the team's credibility have started to impact on performance.
"There is a concern over the impact that this may have on the current season and the distraction it is all causing for Dave Brailsford and the other management," a Team Sky rider told Cyclingnews.
The rider did not want to be named for obvious reasons and the line coming out of the camp at Paris-Nice has been one of business as usual. However, according to our source, several riders have started to discuss whether Brailsford should step down. Any move would need to be triggered by a consensus within the camp, with the high profile riders needing to address their concerns directly to the manager.
"With a team that is so focused on details, things are starting to slip through the cracks because people's attentions are elsewhere," the rider told Cyclingnews.
"No one in the team, currently, is involved in this controversy other than Dave. What's it going to take for the team to get on with racing?"
- Timeline of UKAD investigation into Team Sky and British Cycling
- Cope feels 'stitched up' over role in Team Sky mystery-package saga
- British Cycling admits failures in Wiggins medical delivery
- Collins: Team Sky and British Cycling 'left in terrible position'
- UKAD reveals Freeman received delivery of testosterone in 2011
- Brailsford: Freeman gave me an injection of triamcinolone
The Team Sky board have remained silent in recent weeks, despite the mounting pressure on Brailsford's shoulders. James Murdoch told the Telegraph last week that he was looking forward to another season of success on the road, and in January team leader Chris Froome said serious questions regarding the medical package needed to be answered. It is understood that should Brailsford either be removed or step down, then the future of the entire team could be in doubt – however, this has not been publicly clarified by the team.
The questions regarding the package remain unanswered, with the team unable to provide paperwork to back up their claim that the jiffy bag Simon Cope hand-delivered contained the decongestant, Fluimucil. UKAD last week confirmed that there had been an allegation that the package contained the powerful steroid Kenalog – also known as triamcinoline – a drug that Wiggins was prescribed three times in the lead-up to three Grand Tours.
The damage has not stopped there. Dr Richard Freeman was unable to provide vital medical records to assist UKAD's investigation, and it has emerged that he ordered 'far more' vials of Kenalog than would have been required for one rider, with Brailsford among staff members to whom Freeman administered the corticosteroid. During the weekend the Sunday Times reported that Freeman had also taken delivery of testosterone – a substance banned both in and out of competition – in 2011. According to the Sunday Times, the order was a mistake and was immediately sent back to the pharmaceutical agency.
"From my side, we've been racing now for over a month, and we're busy with all the big races," team director Nicolas Portal, told Cyclingnews at Paris-Nice.
"We have the full support from the sponsor, and that's really good. I trust my team, and I trust my job, and I've been here from the beginning, first as a bike rider. I can understand that there's an issue but the things around that are crazy," he added.
Portal also stressed his full support for Brailsford and the team's ethics. However, he understood that the team had a credibility and trust issue.
"I just trust in the things that we do. The only thing we can do is keep going with the good things that we're doing. I back Dave 100 per cent. I know that there are a few things, but he's a great manager. That's the end of the story for me. I really believe in what we're doing.
"No one can say that it's good, but we're working hard, the staff, everyone, all trying to do it well. I don't think there's any other team as organised. I understand the loss of some trust. I understand why. People only know what they read in the media, but when you're in the situation, you see if differently. I understand 100 per cent though, and it's not nice for them. We need the public."