On Dave Brailsford and "Innuendo"

Mar 14 2013


Hey there Internets—as I mentioned on Monday, I’m a little cranky this week and so I figured, what with my ample amounts of free time and top shelf home production facility, I might as well turn some of that angst into entertaining multimedia web content.

So I guess I want my first rant to be me going on record that I think Dave Brailsford is so right to hit back against the “innuendo’ directed at Team Sky from the “internet”. It’s so unfair that Brailsford’s squad should face this sort of thing —why I can’t think of another cyclist or team that anyone has ever associated with doping. And as for the Internet, it’s so out-of-place that they’d expressed an unfounded, mean spirited opinion about…nah, sorry bro—I’m [expletive] with you.  

Dave, I shouldn’t have to tell you—actually, I know I don’t have to tell you, I’m just doing it so as to make you look ridiculous—that since 1995, there are only three Tour de France winners—Carlos Sastre, Cadel Evans and your boy Wiggo—that haven’t been sanctioned, convicted, or through some method of due process definitively linked doping. In other words, my friend, innuendo comes with the fruitbowl.

But as someone who “writes things” on the “internet”, let me address your concerns more directly. First, this “Innuendo” as you put it, or the coy suggestion, often leveraged in the pursuit of humor, that your team might be doing so well due to the use of performance enhancing drugs is completely fair.  No one owes you taking you at your word just cuz—and frankly, you haven’t done much to engender faith in yourself.

You made a lot of noise coming  onto the scene about how you were going to do it differently, cleanly with doctors from the UK, or at least outside the european road scene. And for the most part, I think the reception was positive, if somewhat skeptical.  But you know, two years later, twenty-eleven Vuelta, you’ve hired a Geert Leinders, a career cycling doc, who probably doped one of your then-directeurs sportif, Stephen DeJongh back when they were both at Rabobank, and suddenly, some Kenyan kid no one had ever heard of outperforming your prize pig in the third biggest race in cycling. Give us a reason other than “because I said so” not to connect those dots.

And really this—THIS—is where you’ve screwed it up the most, Dave—communication. You couldn’t communicate hazing to a fratboy. When Leinders’ name started coming up last July, you didn’t immediately fire the dude. When people reminded you about him in September, you said (and I’m quoting) “I think we’re working on it”; by October, he was out the door, but you asserted that ”nothing wrong” had happened. It was not until earlier this week, practically 10 months later, that you took that one, that first step toward accountability and said that hiring the guy “was a mistake”.

But that’s ok, Dave, that’s ok. Because I’m here to help you. Believe it or not, I really like cycling, I want these rants to be as productive as they are entertaining. And most of all, I want to communicate the desires of cycling fans who actually buy the products sprawled across the jerseys of the spandex-clad denizens you command.

You want to get the Internet fanbase off your back? Follow this one rule: ask What Would Lance Armstrong Have Done, and then do the opposite.

You see, you’ve really backed yourself into this combative, us-or-them relationship with these vast groups of others “the media” “journalists” “the internet” “wankers”, and you just, you can’t hang out there. When you say “There are plenty of journalists who like to think that we’re at it”, you’re casting the very same “unfair” aspersions you decry in your online detractors. Nobody wants to think you’re “at it”; they want to think that you’re winning races because of brilliant tactics, clean, smart, training, and the best support crew money can by.

Maybe this stark dualism has the same root as your zero-tolerance policy—but I swear it really is possible to be “half-a-cheat”. Erik Zabel, for example, who mentored Mark Cavendish—winner of over half your team’s races last year—has admitted to doping early in his career and yet is otherwise known for being square and unassailable as his iconic flat-top haircut. David Millar, Damiano Cunego, essentially every American cyclist aged 30 or over—has dabbled in drugs, and managed to move on.

Some other Armstrong Manouvers you might want to cull from your playbook? Stop referencing irrelevant results—like saying 15 years leading a team to  dominance in three-minutes track events somehow equals clean Tour de France success. And hard work. Sure, it can be the difference, and sure, cycling has it’s share of Ivan Quarantas and Dario Pieris, but don’t insult your opponents work ethic and your fans intelligence by saying your rider won a race because he “wanted it more”.

So yeah—if you have any interest in improving things on the communications from, here are some next steps:

  1. explain, in detail, how an apparently dyed-in-the-wool dope doc like Leinders slipped through your extensive vetting program. You should do this with facts: how many other doctors did you consider, what criteria were used in a final decision, can anyone verify these things, etc.
  2. Ditch your zero tolerance policy. Everyone—even Wiggins—thinks its a stupid idea that perpetuates the Omerta and the sense that getting caught slash confessing is the real shame in doping, not the actual act itself. This way, you won’t have young, impressionable riders surrounded by dudes like Dario Cioni, who almost certainly has a past to talk about, but who can’t be honest for fear of losing his job.
  3. Do not take anything personally. It’s not personal. After the past 15 years, anyone in this sport thinking they’re going  get even the suggestion of the benefit of the doubt, is completely ignorant or clinically delusional. You’re going to be scathed, criticised, browbeaten, picked on, picked over and no matter how clean you are or transparent your make your process, some people will still not be convinced.

But given the still-radioactive fallout left over from the alternative, I don’t see how you can say that that’s not a very good thing.

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