Chris Froome is resigned to facing a torrid Tour de France this summer, with a blizzard of doping questions and accusations from supporters and a European media which will seize on Team Sky’s catastrophic failure to explain the contents of a mystery Jiffy bag and the use of powerful weight loss drug.
Froome finally came out with an expression of tepid support for the beleaguered Sir Dave Brailsford on Monday, having ignored requests to make them last week - providing some badly needed daylight at last, after a dark few weeks in which the team’s clean image has been severely called into questioned.
But the 31-year-old now faces the backlash in France, after Brailsford’s failure to demonstrate that the contents of a notorious package couriered to Team Sky at the end of the pre-season Criterium du Dauphine in 2011. Froome knows he is likely to face the levels of abuse and innuendo he experienced at the Tour in 2015, when he was splattered in spit and urine as he became the first Briton to win the world’s greatest cycle race twice.
Froome could have walked away from Team Sky ahead of this summer's Grand Tour despite being contractually tied until the end of next year, considering the reputational damage caused by the controversy over the Jiffy bag and the liberal dispensing by a British team doctor of triamcinolone, a controlled substance banned in competition. But with no team other than Sky realistically capable of delivering him to a fourth Tour de France win in as many years, he has decided to smooth things over with Brailsford, in a carefully worded statement which had been anticipated for several days.
Froome said in the statement that he “believes in the people around him" and “could not be more grateful” to Brailsford for the support he has given him over the last seven years. The three-time Tour de France champion added, however, that he could “understand why people feel let down by the way in which the situation has been handled” and conceded the entire team needed “to do better” to restore trust.
The statement was as significant for what it did not say as for what it did. It was an expression of gratitude for what Brailsford had done for him in the past, rather than a defence of the former British Cycling performance director’s conduct in the recent controversy. Froome said the current controversy did not “reflect the support crew and the riders that I see around me” and did not offer a defence of the 53-year-old.
Froome inferred that Brailsford had presided over errors, which were brought into the light by the culture media and sport select committee. “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,” Froome said. There was a modicum of warmth when he stated: “Without Dave B, there is no Team Sky. He has supported me throughout the last seven years of my career.”
Froome did not specifically mention a UKAD investigation into the Jiffy bag in 2011, nor the team’s decision to grant Sir Bradley Wiggins’ three Therapeutic Use Exemptions for triamcinolone in 2011, 2012 and 2013 about which he has critical in the past.