Brailsford balances legal and PR battles as Froome case plays out

CALA DE MIJAS, Spain (VN) — Team Sky’s Dave Brailsford is walking a tightrope.

Torn between a PR battle that he might be losing right now, and the even more important legal war over Chris Froome’s Salbutamol case, the British team manager insists that less is more. At least right now.

“It’s challenging. We are privy to a lot more information than what is out in the public domain,” Brailsford said Wednesday. “There is also a legal process. We don’t want to jeopardize that in any way. Then you have the reputational side of it, which is equally important, but we have to manage the whole legal process first.”

Right now, it’s all hands on deck as Sky tries to clear Froome’s name from a possible career-altering ban and Vuelta disqualification. Froome defiantly returned to racing Wednesday, and a horde of journalists descended on southern Spain to cover the story.

Team Sky has discretely remained quiet over the past several weeks while media and the public have been wringing their hands over Froome’s case.

Froome voiced concern of “misinformation” that has seeped into the public arena since he tested for high levels of Salbutamol en route to winning the 2017 Vuelta a España.

After the case was leaked in December, everyone at Team Sky has been waiting on the sidelines as lawyers and experts prepared their arguments. The case seems to be moving along within the UCI’s anti-doping structure, but no one really knows how long it will be before a final ruling.

In the meantime, with Team Sky refusing to comment publicly about the case, the narrative has taken on a life of its own. Online forums, social media, and a large part of the media have already seemed to have made up their minds.

Despite a temptation to counter some of the wilder stories that are circulating, lawyers are telling everyone within Sky that it’s more prudent to hold their collective tongues until the case is concluded.

“We are 100 percent behind him,” Brailsford insisted Wednesday. “On the public side of things, as uncomfortable as it may be at times, we’ll just have to wait. It’s tempting to correct a lot of the misinformation that is out there. We are in an age of a lot of fast information. We have to be very careful with that. Right now, we are focused on the legal side of things.”

And that means keeping mum about any critical details of the case. It’s one thing to publicly express support for Froome, it’s quite something else to reveal what arguments lawyers might make before arbitration officials.

Brailsford flew directly to Spain from Colombia, where new recruit Egan Bernal won the Oro y Paz race. As much as he would have liked to have talked about that — or just about anything else — dozens of reporters packed in around the Team Sky bus Wednesday with only one thing in mind.

Brailsford weathered a media barrage after Froome pedaled away to make his season debut at the Ruta del Sol. There were plenty of questions:

Why doesn’t Froome stand down? “I get the difference of opinions that are out there. I think it’s fair and correct that he should be treated like any other rider in this situation. I think he should race.”

How long will the process take? “It’s not in our interest to go slow. I’ve read in a few places that we are trying to stall. Why on earth would we want that? We’d like to be resolved as quickly as possible, [but] I think there is a dilemma of trying to get it resolved as quickly as possible and being careful, making sure things are accurate and not rushing things. The most important thing ultimately is that all the information will be shown and he will be allowed to clear his name.”

Is the team fully backing Froome’s insistence that he didn’t break any rules? “The rule is the number of puffs. So did he take more than the allowed number? No. I am 100 percent confident that I cannot see how it won’t play out.”

Would Sky appeal if Froome is banned? “That is purely speculation, isn’t it? We are working hard on the situation we have now, and we’ll manage it from there.”

The Froome case comes on the heels of a rough patch for Sky and Brailsford. There was the whole Wiggins business, with TUEs and Jiffy Bags. Before that, biological passport queries and doubts about former doctors. And now Froome, the team’s franchise rider and poster boy for new cycling, is facing a possible ban for asthma medication.

Brailsford might appear to be under pressure from all sides, but he shows no signs of it, at least not publicly. He was all smiles and chatting with riders and staff before the start of the stage Wednesday.

One reporter asked Brailsford if he’s worn out? “No, no, not at all.”

Is all this harder than JiffyGate? Brailsford shot him a hard glance, “Come on — cheap shot.”

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