DUESSELDORF, Germany (Reuters) - It is fair to say that Team Sky boss Dave Brailsford will be happy to talk strategy, gear ratios and Chris Froome’s form for as long as anyone is listening over the next few weeks.
It would be a ‘comfort zone’ for the 53-year-old who has found himself, and the team he has built into the most formidable racing outfit in the peloton, mired in controversy over jiffy bags, therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) and even a supposed ‘culture of fear’ in British Cycling.
Quite simply, Team Sky have had better years.
In March British MP Damian Collins, chairman of the Department of Culture Media and Sport select committee investigating a delivery to Bradley Wiggins at the 2011 Criterium du Dauphine, said Team Sky’s credibility was in tatters over its failure to prove that the package delivered to the race was legal decongestant Fluimucil.
The saga, which began when a British newspaper claimed last year the “jiffy bag” ordered by former team doctor Richard Freeman contained the corticosteroid triamcinolone, has dragged on and exposed holes in Team Sky’s medical record keeping.
Brailsford, who in December was grilled by MPs over the mystery of the delivery, has admitted that his team, well-known for its painstaking attention to detail had been guilty of “process failures” but came back fighting, insisting that there was no question, or proof of any wrongdoing.
All that in the wake of Wiggins and Froome being caught up in the Fancy Bears hacking attack on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) medical files -- leaks highlighting Wiggins’ TUEs for triamcinolone before winning the 2012 Tour de France to treat asthma and allergies.
With UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) continuing its investigation into allegations of wrongdoing in a sport that has become a source of British pride, Team Sky’s riders, headed by Froome, will roll off in Duesseldorf on Saturday under a cloud.
And with the world’s media following their every pedal stroke there will be no hiding place.
Brailsford appears resigned to some trying days ahead.
“When we go to the Tour de France every year, ever since we started, it has been a hostile environment for us as a team to go there and win the race, so I expect no difference in that sense,” he said in the build-up.
”From an investigation point of view, we will wait for the outcome of that, but I am very confident there is no wrongdoing.
“As far as the Tour goes, we are very focussed on the race.”
In their pre-Tour news conference, Brailsford was grilled by the media over the team’s credibility.
“I’ve been involved in this sport a long time, and I’ve tried to do it absolutely in the way that I’ve always thought it should be done,” he said.
“I‘m proud of what we’ve achieved in this sport, proud of this team and proud to be sitting here and to be getting ready for the race.”
It has been a mixed year on the road too.
Team Sky’s hopes of winning the Giro d‘Italia for the first time were scuppered when joint leaders Geraint Thomas and Mikel Landa were both brought down in a crash caused by a police motorbike on stage nine, causing Thomas to abandon.
There is plenty of room for optimism though with Froome backed by a formidable line-up -- including Paris-Nice winner Sergio Henao and fellow climbing aces Landa and Mikel Nieve.
Trusty sidekick Thomas will also be at Froome’s call as will Poland’s Michal Kwiatkowski who in March claimed Team Sky’s biggest one-day triumph by winning Milan-San Remo.
That triumph was overshadowed by the furore surrounding the team’s medical practices and Sky can only hope the focus in the days ahead will be on Froome’s battle for the yellow jersey.
Additional reporting by Julien Pretot, editing by Pritha Sarkar