It’s a question that Dave Brailsford has spent a lot of time considering recently, in particular given the atmosphere of negativity and suspicion that surrounded Chris Froome’s victory in the Tour de France last July.
What should be done to make professional cycling more credible?
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At the team’s training camp in Majorca this week, Brailsford discussed at length with journalists some of his ideas for improving the credibility and reputation of the sport.
Independent physiological testing
Brailsford praised the efforts of Chris Froome and his wife Michelle in arranging independent physiological testing shortly after the Tour de France.
Froome underwent a VO2 max test and two sub-maximal tests at the laboratories of GlaxoSmithKline in August 2015, with the results published alongside selected blood data and historical physiological data in an article in Esquire magazine last December.
“Chris as a rider, and we as a team, get challenged with this whole data release quite a lot, more than any other team,” said Brailsford. “So it’s left to me, ultimately, to decide what data do we release, when do we do it, and what do we do. And then people will make a judgement off the back of that, in terms of ‘oh they’re trying to hide something or they’re not open enough or not transparent enough.’”
Brailsford added that he hoped the release of Froome’s data would encourage other riders to follow suit.
“I think everyone recognised that, regardless of the data, it was a step in the right direction,” he said. “So I think that type of initiative was well received, and hopefully it might lead to a wider group of riders across teams doing a similar sort of thing.”
Embedded anti-doping officers
Brailsford suggested that independent anti-doping officers should be embedded within professional WorldTour teams in order to spot cheating and act as a deterrent. The officers would rotate between teams, he added.
“We spend all this time on the road, it wouldn’t be that difficult for an anti-doping person to be here with us all the time, go through every bedroom and see what we’re doing,” he said.
“If someone’s cheating… they’d have to be doing it somewhere, sometime, and if you lived here 100% of the time you’d find out. Get out there, get amongst it, it would be cheaper and way more effective and welcome.”
Mandatory data release
Besides encouraging the release of independent data, Brailsford would welcome the mandatory release of physiological data by all teams. He explained that he recently wrote to the UCI president Brian Cookson to suggest that cycling adopted the idea.
“Wouldn’t it be better if the UCI took a lead and said, ‘you know what, all of you should release this data, in this format, at this moment in time, so there’s no ‘will they won’t they’, it’s all sorted before the season starts, everybody knows what’s expected,’ and off we go and deliver it across all teams?” Brailsford said.
“I think those types of initiatives would take us a long way, and it’s not just about Sky, it’s not just about Chris [Froome], it’s about everybody. Some steps like that would take us in a better direction.”
Watch: Men’s WorldTour contenders for 2016
Information on how often riders are tested
On Monday UK Athletics released a 14 point plan on how to clean up athletics, including the recommendation that the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) maintain a global register of the time and location of all anti-doping tests.
Brailsford agreed that the measure could be beneficial, but stopped short of endorsing it fully.
“I wouldn’t give every single date because if someone had been to altitude and had three or four tests back to back and that person is innocent, it would be easy for people to go, ‘hang on he’s being target tested,’ and then you get suspicious of an individual when there’s no cause to be suspicious at all,” he said.
Don’t think about PR during a race
Brailsford admitted that the Tour de France isn’t always the best environment to consider how best to promote the image of cycling, confessing to being in what he called “fight mode” during the Tour when the goal of winning becomes an all-consuming passion.
“We’re constantly looking at ourselves and how we can play a leadership role in terms of trying to move the sport forward,” he said. “It’s tricky because when you’re right in the guts of the Tour de France and you’re not sure how its going to go, and you’re in competition mode, you’re in fight mode, it’s not the same as sitting here and being calm.
“I’m not sure that moment in time, when you’re in fight mode, is the most logical time to be thinking about how to do PR or whatever. It’s a different mindset.”