Stage 4: Dave Brailsford opens up
The latest Telegraph Cycling Podcast, supported by Jaguar, features an exclusive and extensive interview with Sir Dave Brailsford, the Team Sky principal.
Brailsford spent 45 minutes speaking to the podcast on the eve of the Tour, explaining his team selection, including the omission of Sir Bradley Wiggins, and looking ahead to the race. Presciently, he discussed the importance of adapting to changed circumstances, saying: “Someone will crash tomorrow.”
During Tuesday’s fourth stage Chris Froome, the Sky team leader and defending champion, crashed, sustaining cuts and grazes and injuring his wrist. While Froome’s continued participation is not in doubt, Brailsford speaks to the podcast about Richie Porte and Geraint Thomas providing other “tactical options”.
Brailsford also discusses the recent controversy over Froome’s therapeutic use exemption (TUE) at the Tour de Romandie, a race he won, and Sky’s decision not to join the Movement for Credible Cycling (MPCC), of which several other WorldTour teams are members.
On the challenge of building a team, Brailsford admits: “I’ve had some brilliant, brilliant athletes but relatively few brilliant teams.”
And when it came to selecting his nine-man team for the Tour, he says, “We all have favourites, but my job is to sit and look at this from a logical point of view. And the single lens I look at it through is winning.”
That, he says, meant “building a team around Chris… It isn’t about going for your nine strongest riders. In our experience after about nine or 10 days people start to get on each other’s nerves. And you have to take that into consideration.
“What’s the difference between a group of individuals and a team? A group of individuals is nowhere near as cohesive. It’s why we put so much emphasis on the team. In my experience it’s a really hard thing to do. I’ve had some brilliant, brilliant athletes but relatively few brilliant teams.
“If you have one guy who can win this race — and there aren’t many who can — if we’re to do something that could be detrimental, [or] if the blend and the chemistry doesn’t work, well, you’re kind of working against yourself.”
To the question of whether Wiggins might have been a disruptive influence, Brailsford responds: “The reality is both [Froome and Wiggins] are characters in their own right. We don’t create characters; we try to manage characters. [But] we shouldn’t just talk about Bradley and Chris. It’s the whole group. You’ve got to piece together a group. If you get cracks, riders and staff will start to think, ‘I’m on his side or his side, or I’ll not say anything.’”
Addressing the recent controversy over Froome’s TUE at the Tour de Romandie — where it was leaked to the media that he had been granted a TUE for a course of corticosteroids to treat an illness — Brailsford says he has no regrets: “The decisions that the team’s doctors took, I back them 100%. Do I understand why there was a breach of medical confidentiality? No I don’t.”
“I’m not comfortable with that, not because we have anything to hide, but because it doesn’t feel right to me.
“We thought long and hard about [making TUEs public] but you could have some pretty personal medical conditions — they are humans, after all. There could be very private, mental health issues, for example.
“Why does [a TUE] create alarm bells? Because they’ve been abused in the past. We know [Lance] Armstrong tested positive [at the 1999 Tour, and that] they got a TUE that was backdated. That sort of scenario leads people to be very suspicious.
“But if you take that out of the equation, cycling is not the only sport that uses TUEs. Every sport uses TUEs. They are for the medical care of a rider; if they are ill enough they are allowed to take medicine to get better. But they are not, and should not be used, for performance enhancement. That’s the critical dividing line.
“Do TUEs have a place in sport? Yes, absolutely, if they are used properly. And WADA and the UCI agree that in Chris Froome’s case it was the appropriate action.
“We set out to win the Tour clean,” Brailsford adds. “Am I confident in this team and what we’re doing? 100%. Absolutely. Do I understand why there’s doubt, [and] why we get a tidal wave of quesitons? Of course. I’d be in the same position myself.”