Last week during an evening of watching mundane television, an advert from Skoda came on my TV. It showed a lone cyclist riding through the cold and rain of Snowdonia, North Wales.
The footage cut to a young child going through his first attempts to ride a bike, back to the lone cyclist, and back again to the young child. This time the child could barely stay awake, eyes fixated on the yellow jersey of the Tour de France that has taken over his TV set.
Soon it became apparent that what was being watched was a fairy tale insight into Bradley Wiggins’ career.
Starting with the gruelling dedication of the early years, we are shown a montage of career successes and the overwhelming aftermath of a man who hit the very top of his sport in 2012, becoming the first Brit to win the general classification of the Tour de France.
The advert finished with Wiggins driving off into the distance with the tagline:
“Driven by something different”
Driven by something different, indeed; but what? This is the question that has engulfed Team Sky, British Cycling, Sir Dave Brailsford, and Wiggins.
In late 2016 it came to light that a package transported to Team Sky on the day of Wiggins’ breakthrough stage race victory at the 2011 Critérium du Dauphiné had no documents went with it.
Team Sky claim that the content of the package was the approved legal decongestant Fluimucil to treat Wiggins’ hay fever allergy, but they have no evidence to cement their claims. Sir Dave Brailsford, general manager of Team Sky, told the the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee looking into UK Anti-Doping's investigation that a Team Sky laptop containing the records was stolen from them in 2014.
Heavy blows for the big guns
Brailsford himself has taken most of the hits. The coach who masterminded the meteoric rise of British Cycling and Team Sky has had his iconic status within the sport questioned, and his very position in the sport has been put into doubt. British Cycling has been labelled as a “false idol” by British Athletics chairman, Ed Warner.
But he has remained passionate in his defence of his life's work. Speaking to the select committee, Brailsford said:
“It's a shame we are here but I'm quite happy to be sharing this information with you. We've put 46 medals on the board since the partnership with British Cycling and none of that has been done in anything other than the right way. We've got fantastic people and they don't deserve to have this shadow cast over them. It pains me.”
British Cycling's recent achievements are amongst some of the greatest ever in the historic British sport, but that is lost due to the comments coming from Brailsford himself.
The need for other voices
Too much damage has been done through silence.
It took months for the high profile figures of Team Sky to put their support behind Brailsford, and in effect, their team, with most of them taking to Twitter.
It shouldn't even need saying, but we all back Dave B 100%!!! I've known him a long time and I wouldn't want anyone else leading @teamsky
— Geraint Thomas (@GeraintThomas86) March 6, 2017
110% behind Dave https://t.co/tci3OhPOgq
— Owain Doull (@owaindoull) March 6, 2017
— Tao Geoghegan Hart (@taogeoghegan) March 6, 2017
This kind of belated support on it's own, though, is not enough. But what might be is the card played by Team Sky’s three time winner of the Tour de France, Chris Froome. Froome, who remained quiet during the Twitter love-in, took his time responding and came out with something far more useful than blind support.
Froome, cycling’s poster boy for clean riding, said:
“I would like to apologise for this on behalf of myself and the other riders of Team Sky who feel passionately about our sport and winning clean. With respect to Dave Brailsford, he has created one of the best sports teams in the world. Without Dave B, there is no Team Sky.”
The clever card played by Froome, someone external to the problem, is going to be vital to the future, especially since British Cycling has been threatened with losing its £26 million funding for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games if it does not get its house in order.
UK Sport Chief Executive Liz Nicholl said:
"The funding agreements will be issued in March. But those funding agreements will contain conditions that those action plans that we’ve talked about and these other commitments that British Cycling is now making will be in there as a condition of grant and there will be timescales.”
Froome is no doubt aware of the financial threats issued to British Cycling. In one sense, Froome was issuing a warning to those threatening cycling's funding; lose Brailsford, and Team Sky go down with him.
BBC Sport Editor, Dan Roan, said:
“Froome seems to be taking a more pragmatic stand, making the point that unless Brailsford stays, Sky's sponsorship may cease, and the team could fold. This is how high the stakes have now become for one of the most successful professional teams in sport."
The response from Froome, the man who took over from Wiggins as Team Sky's yellow jersey competitor, was long overdue. But by avoiding the unintelligent, zero-sum tribalism of some of his Team Sky teammates, Froome did what he does on the road, and took the standard of response to another level, except this time with words and not speed.
Avoiding mob mentality
It would be mindnumbling foolish to allow a shining light within British sport to die for the sake of getting Brailsford’s head.
Cycling has come a long way – and no one will argue that it is at its end goal just yet. Team Sky have more questions to face, and rightfully so since they pride themselves on their clean, transparent brand.
There has to be consequencues for the undocumented 2011 package administered to Bradley Wiggins, but it would be brash and irresponsible to allow it to destroy over a decades work. If British Cycling and Team Sky are to continue their successes on the road and track, then there needs to be the best brains in the sport behind both.