Jim Ratcliffe, the billionaire co-owner of the Ineos petrochemicals company and owner of the Ineos Grenadiers team, has given team manager Dave Brailsford his "full support" after former team doctor Richard Freeman was found guilty of ordering testosterone in 2011 'knowing or believing' it was for a rider.
Freeman worked for the team when it was known as Team Sky, as well as for British Cycling, from 2009 to 2017. He was permanently struck off the medical register last week and is also under investigation by UK Anti-Doping.
There have been calls for Brailsford to be suspended pending an investigation, with Freeman’s QC for the medical tribunal describing him as "the spectre missing at these proceedings".
However, Ratcliffe, whose chemical and plastics company has been accused of 'sports washing' over its sponsorship of cycling and other sports, dismissed the criticism of Brailsford and gave him his full backing.
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"We've all got antenna haven't we?" Ratcliffe told the Daily Telegraph. "Your antenna starts pinging if you're uncomfortable about something. My antenna doesn't start pinging when I'm chatting to Dave. Quite the opposite.
"I also know the riders. I know Chris Froome, I know Egan (Bernal) and Geraint (Thomas). I'd be astonished if there's any of that going on.
"I like Dave. He has my full support. Unless something came up that I was shocked by, he will continue to have my full support."
Contacted by Cyclingnews, Ineos eventually replied after several days, saying it had "nothing to add" and pointing towards the Ratcliffe comments. Brailsford, meanwhile, has remained in absolute silence since the Freeman verdict.
Ratcliffe repeated what he said when Ineos replaced Sky as a team owner and title sponsor in 2019, saying he would withdraw his funding if he found that his team had cheated. However, he preferred not to look back to the past or consider its impact on Brailsford’s reputation as team manager.
"It comes back to this debate we had when we first took over. Cycling has a mixed history, a reputation. But assuming it’s now clean as a sport, you shouldn’t consign it to the dustbin, should you?" he argued.
"Like athletics, or football, it’s a fantastic sport and that’s why, ultimately, we decided to support it. My principal concern is where we are now and how we conduct ourselves," he added.
"I was very clear, right from the beginning, that if there was ever any sense of that going on in our team, I'd walk away immediately. Nothing's changed in that regard. You haven't accomplished anything if you've done it by cheating."
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