The billionaire Jim Ratcliffe has a favourite word — rigorous, be it running a petrochemical behemoth, tackling the sub-two-hour marathon or pouring £100million into sport each year.
Weeks later, Brailsford’s rigour resulted in an Ineos one-two on the podium come Paris but, for the first time since the cycling boss set out to win the Tour — and succeeded seven years in the last eight — that rigour has been questioned.
Did he make an error in resting everything on Egan Bernal, albeit a defending champion, without the necessary experience around him? It went against his previous ethos of never putting too much of an onus on a rider so young, just 23 in Bernal’s case.
Froome was certainly not ready but Thomas, judging by his runners-up spot at the Tirreno-Adriatico, could argue to have been, and surely his experience would have aided Bernal’s cause.
As for whether that rigour might now be questioned by the man bankrolling the team, Brailsford said: “He knows it’s part of the sport. Look, he won it last year at the first time of asking, so I think he understands.”
For a team where numbers and data mean so much, the outcome simply did not add up. After losing time on Stage 13, Bernal said: “If I look at my figures, they are among the best numbers I have ever done. I just have to accept that the others are better.”
Just a few days later, Bernal was out of the race with back and knee issues.
Brailsford is not a man to necessarily admit the error of his ways — tellingly he did not front up to the media on Monday’s rest day — but is still adamant the selection was the right call.
Gallingly, he got beaten at his own game: Dutch team Jumbo-Visma were better prepared and able to dictate the pace from the very start in Nice.
Brailsford was gracious enough to admit “every now and then you need a kick in the balls and that’s what we’re getting right now”. Ratcliffe will also have his say, a man who did not enter sport to come second.
Both will hope 2020 is be a solitary blip. The future looks bright: Thomas says he has unfinished business at the Tour; Adam Yates, who joins the team next season, has looked reasonably good for his current seventh place in France; and Bernal, around whom the team will likely be built, has not suddenly become a spent force.
But with the team’s No1 target the Tour each year, 2020 will be seen as a failure. Its first Tour winner Bradley Wiggins said this week: “Had it been football, Dave Brailsford would be out.”
Ratcliffe will be infinitely more forgiving as long as the rigour returns.