Tuesday's annual Team Sky international media conference at their Puerto Alcudia training camp was a rather more strained and tense affair than usual. The press was wanting to grill team principal Sir Dave Brailsford about the ongoing UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) investigation into a package delivered to Bradley Wiggins six years ago.
Brailsford’s appearance in front of a British parliamentary committee last month, when he was cross-examined about what exactly was in the package which arrived at the 2011 Criterium du Dauphine, as well as his team’s use of Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs), apparently failed to dispel suspicions of wrongdoing to some critics.
So much so that last week, UKAD’s outgoing chairman David Kenworthy described the evidence given by Brailsford, together with Team Sky’s former head coach Shane Sutton, as "disappointing" and "extraordinary".
Brailsford, who told the culture, media and sport committee on 19 December that as far as he was aware the delivery was a WADA-approved flu remedy called Fluimucil, hit back on Tuesday in Alcudia, accusing Kenworthy of double standards.
"I was very surprised he (Kenworthy) came out with those comments. I think most people would say let’s wait until the process has come to a conclusion.
"We were asked to respect that process, which we have. For the chair of that organisation (UKAD) to make comments, very interesting comments let’s say, saying it’s extraordinary, then the only extraordinary thing is that he made the comments in the first place.
"If we are all being held to account in terms of the highest standards and process, then we should see that process through. It feels like it’s been a little confused by people jumping in and talking about it halfway through.
"Look, I know what questions you guys are going to ask me and most of you know what I’m going to say, we’ve been through all this already, so perhaps we could talk about other things, like cycling," he joked, clearly fed up with the constant grilling about an issue which he considers to be in the hands of the UK Anti-Doping agency, which he believes is where it should be.
"All I would say is that as team manager, I can’t oversee everything. Right now I’ve got cyclists here, in France and Australia. But there is a right and wrong and should anyone overstep the mark, then I have no mercy. They deserve whatever they’ve got coming to them."
The only question is when a result to the inquiry will be announced. But in the meantime, Sir Dave has much more important things to worry than an alleged incident which happened some six years ago.
Every year, the team principal, an obsessive tactician and to a certain extent expert sports philosopher who, with his team, has broken the mould of international and British cycling, has a new and different mission statement. And this year, as the Bulletin reported yesterday, this it is "sustainability, improvement and innovation". He said that Majorca is the ideal location from where to deliver that message to his cyclists, be they here, Monaco or Australia.
"This year, delivery of the team message is going to be a new introduction to our overall team management. It’s about getting a message out to all of our cyclists, when we have a good idea, and then making sure that all of the riders sustain that message. It’s an idea which the former Labour government introduced and I think it’s a very interesting and potentially useful concept, so that is one area in which we are innovating this season.
"The other is that here at Team Sky, the riders are cycling to win, helping a teammate win or learning how to win. And that is one of the factors we like about Majorca. I’ve been coming here on training camps for some 20 years.
"Apart from one year when we decided to base ourselves in the south of the island, it’s always been Alcudia and here we are. Like I said, we want and need sustainability to be able to innovate and improve and this is what we have here in Majorca, so I see no reason whatsoever for us to leave Majorca and not return in the future.
"And another new issue we’ve talked about here in Majorca this year is the volume of wins. If we win the Tour and nothing else, I guess I’d take it. If we win lots of other races but miss out on the big ones, ok. But what I want is for big riders to step up and target the monument races, while I want to bring the young riders in, the development teams, and set them targets. I don’t care if it’s a stage or a small race, it’s a win and it’s an overall contribution to Team Sky as a whole and that is something new for this year. I want everyone cycling collectively. Every win makes a race important, however significant that race may be in the greater scheme of things. So that’s another message we have been delivering here to the riders, and obviously another we want to sustain.
"But while it’s the guys like Chris (Froome) Geraint Thomas, Mikel Landa and the top riders - the potential winners - who provide that sustainability in the team as individuals and as a collective group, we need to innovate to move forward and there’s a big difference between innovation and improvement. Innovation requires introducing new elements while change does not always need improvement, while improvement requires change. But at the end of the day, there’s no point changing things for the sake of change because that doesn’t always bring improvement, so there’s a big difference between the two and these are some of the areas we’ve been looking at and working on during the winter training camp here in Majorca and will be continually looking at as the season develops.
"And we’ve got the cyclists to hit our targets. I think it’s going to be a big year for Landa and Thomas in the Giro, and of course Chris. So let’s move forward."
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