A week after many of his teammates rallied behind Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford on Twitter, Chris Froome has voiced his support for his beleaguered boss, saying that "Without Dave B, there is no Team Sky". Brailsford told Cyclingnews and Cycling Weekly at Tirreno-Adriatico last week that he has no intentions of stepping down from his role as Team Principal.
Froome, a three-time Tour de France champion, had been noticeably quiet since the Twitter outpour that followed the news, broken by Cyclingnews last Monday, that some riders had considered asking Brailsford to step down from his post.
Subsequent reports stated that the riders had been asked by management to post the tweets of support after previously being requested to sign a statement backing Brailsford, which Froome had reportedly refused to sign. Froome, who has been with the team since its inception in 2010, makes no mention of that in today's statement but thanks Brailsford for what he has done for him over the past seven years.
"With respect to Dave Brailsford, he has created one of the best sports teams in the world. Without Dave B, there is no Team Sky," said Froome in his statement.
"He has supported me throughout the last seven years of my career and I couldn't be more grateful for the opportunities and the experiences I've had. By his own admission, mistakes have been made, but protocols have been put in place to ensure that those same mistakes will not be made again."
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Team Sky's practices have been under the spotlight ever since the Fancy Bears' hacking of Bradley Wiggins' Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) data last September, which revealed that Wiggins had been injected with triamcinolone, a corticosteroid, ahead of the 2011 and 2012 Tours de France and the 2013 Giro d'Italia. In the aftermath of that, it was reported that a medical package had been delivered to the team at the 2011 Critérium du Dauphiné. UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) subsequently opened an investigation into the 'allegation of wrongdoing'.
Team Sky employees, including Dave Brailsford, have also been asked to appear in front of British MPs at the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee that is looking at doping in sport. It was at one of the hearings in December that Brailsford stated that the package contained the decongestant, Fluimucil, though neither the team nor British Cycling have been able to provide paperwork to confirm this.
In a further hearing earlier this month, UKAD Chief Executive Nicole Sapstead gave a withering critique of the medical practices of both Team Sky and British Cycling, where Brailsford worked as performance director between 2003 and 2014. She also questioned the amounts of triamcinolone that former Team Sky doctor Richard Freeman had ordered, saying it was "far more" than would have been needed for one rider. In recent weeks, it has come to light that Dr. Freeman gave the corticosteroid to British Cycling and Team Sky employees, including Brailsford.
Froome voiced his upset at the negative portrayal of the team in the past few months, but said that the situation had been handled poorly.
"It disappoints me hugely to see the way in which Team Sky has been portrayed by the media recently. It does not reflect the support crew and the riders that I see around me," he said.
"At the same time, I completely understand why people feel let down by the way in which the situation has been handled, and going forward we need to do better. I would like to apologise for this on behalf of myself and the other riders of Team Sky who feel passionately about our sport and winning clean. I believe in the people around me, and what we are doing.
"I know it will take time for faith to be restored, but I will do my utmost to ensure that happens."
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Thomas: It shows the team is united
Geraint Thomas, who recently undertook a block of training with Froome in South Africa, was the first Team Sky rider to tweet his support for Brailsford, and backed that up when talking to the media ahead of Tirreno-Adriatico.
With Froome's statement being released on the morning of the penultimate stage of the Italian race on Monday, Cyclingnews spoke to Thomas to hear his reaction.
"It shows the team is united and we can move on and focus on the racing," he said, before being asked if, as one Sky rider had told Cyclingnews, the whole affair had become a distraction. "Not for me personally, it's only when you get questions about it that you really think about it. Like I say, I've got some big goals this year so that's all I'm worried about.
"Obviously you do [discuss it] a bit when you're out on the bikes together but at the same time it's not a topic we talk about daily."
Brailsford has dropped in on Tirreno-Adriatico this week to be with the team, and after initially keeping a low profile, he spoke to the press and insisted he hasn't considered stepping down.
"It was good to see him and have him around," said Thomas. "It was like normal and like nothing has changed."
Froome said that "without Dave B, there is no Team Sky", echoing the suggestion that should Brailsford step away from the helm, the team would stop.
"I don't know," Thomas said when asked if there can be a Team Sky without Brailsford. "For sure, I'd want him to be around. He's what has made the team so good and long may it continue."