Geraint Thomas was the first Team Sky rider to tweet his support for Dave Brailsford on Monday evening in what was clearly an orchestrated response to the news, broken by Cyclingnews, that several riders on the team had held discussions over whether to approach the team manager to ask him to step down.
Thomas' tweet – "It shouldn't even need saying, but we all back Dave B 100%!!!" – was followed on Monday evening by a series of similarly worded messages from 15 of the 28 riders on Sky’s 2017 roster.
Speaking to Cyclingnews and other outlets ahead of Tirreno-Adriatico in Lido di Camaiore on Tuesday, Thomas reiterated his support for Brailsford and claimed media coverage of the matter has been "unfair."
Brailsford's position has come under increasing scrutiny due to the concerns that have been raised in recent months 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 to treat Bradley Wiggins.
"Obviously, Dave's the head of the team and he's going to get most of the questions and stuff. For me, the frustrating thing is that every article written is about Team Sky and it kind of tarnishes us all with the same brush, which I think is really unfair. That's what annoys me the most," Thomas said. "For sure, from the guys I speak to on the team, they feel the same. I wouldn't say it's a distraction to me, I don't really read a lot online and things, but for sure it filters through to me but I'm just concentrating on my racing.
"It's just frustrating that every journalist has an opinion. It's a bit like tattoo fixers, you can go and say something and get a tattoo, and then a journalist can go and paint around it and make it into something completely different, that's how I feel. Not everyone. Not all journalists, but a few can, and that's how they want to get their articles and whatever out there, which I think is a bit unfair."
Although Thomas acknowledged that there were "questions still to be answered," he queried why they were aimed at Sky’s current staff and riders rather than at Bradley Wiggins and former team doctor Richard Freeman.
The controversy began in September, when Russian cyber-hacking group Fancy Bears leaked documents that showed that Wiggins had received therapeutic use exemptions for the corticosteroid triamcinolone acetonide ahead of the 2011 and 2012 Tours de France, and the 2013 Giro d'Italia.
The Daily Mail subsequently reported that Simon Cope, then a women's coach at British Cycling, had delivered an unspecified medical product in a Jiffy bag to then Sky doctor Richard Freeman on the final day of the 2011 Dauphiné. At a House of Commons Select Committee hearing in December, Brailsford claimed that the product in question was the decongestant Fluimicil, but the team has produced no records to prove as much.
- 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
"For sure there's still questions to be answered, 100 percent, and I know as much as what you guys know really," Thomas said. "I think with Dave as well it's like a CEO of a company, they don't oversee everything everybody does. They've kind of got to delegate and trust people to be the head of those certain areas.
"Freeman and Brad don't seem to be having too much of the flak, really. It just seems to be us which also is annoying. They're the people that this whole thing involves and they can swan around getting on with their lives while we're the ones who have to stand here and answer these questions, which we've got nothing to do with. That's annoying."
Last week, UK Anti-Doping chief executive Nicole Sapstead issued damning criticism of Sky's failure to produce medical records at the request of UKAD investigators. She confirmed that significant amounts of triamcinolone had been ordered through British Cycling with the quantities 'far more' than what would be needed for one rider. Sky later confirmed that Freeman had administered triamcinolone to staff members on occasion, with Brailsford telling the Telegraph that he had been administered with triamcinolone by Freeman to treat a knee injury in 2008.
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.
"I've known Dave a hell of a long time now and I've 100 percent confidence that he'd never do anything the wrong way," Thomas said. "He's done so much for myself and for so many of the other Brits and the sport in general really. I just believe that he hasn't done anything untoward, really, and the same with Brad and Freeman, really, as far as I know, no rules have been broken from WADA and stuff. For me, I'm fully behind Dave."