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Brailsford parachutes into Tuscany as Sky storm brews

Sky boss David Brailsford visits team at Tirreno-Adriatico amid the swirling scandal underway in England, and his rider Thomas delivers a win.

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POMARANCE, Italy (VN) — Tuscany’s rolling hills and tall cypress trees are welcoming, especially if your team is under increasing scrutiny at home in Great Britain.

Writers, painters, and since the end of the World War, cyclists have taken refuge in Tuscany and found inspiration in its beauty. For David Brailsford, team Sky’s boss, the visit to Italy’s Tirreno-Adriatico stage race allows him to check in on his million-dollar Giro d’Italia stars and dodge flying bullets in England.

“He showed up just before the team time trial, and he shook my hand and said thanks for yesterday,” Geraint Thomas said today. “We shook hands. That was it. We didn’t speak but focused on the race.”

Thomas gave Brailsford a gift with his Tirreno-Adriatico stage 2 win in the hilltop town of Pomarance

Welshman Geraint Thomas and Spaniard Mikel Landa are preparing to lead the Great Britain’s super-team in the Giro d’Italia this May 5 to 28. The plan is for them to conquer Italy after many years of success in the Tour de France.

However, since September, events have stolen Brailsford’s attention. First, Russian hacker group “Fancy Bears” leaked TUE information on Bradley Wiggins that indicated that Sky might be operating in the grey area between clean cycling and doping.

Other small bombs fell, like a mysterious medical package delivered to star cyclist Bradley Wiggins in the Critérium du Dauphiné. The detail-oriented “marginal gains” team lacked records to prove what the package contained.

England’s dailies have been going at full speed with the stories that led to a UK Anti-Doping investigation and parliamentary hearings. Brailsford testified ahead of Christmas, but the situation has worsened and some are calling for his resignation.

Reports emerged last week that a group within the team wants Brailsford to step down so that the team can focus on winning. Thomas, in response to the news, wrote on Twitter that he supports Brailsford. Others did too. Sky’s three-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome notably has not.

“I haven’t spoken to Froomey actually,” Thomas said. “But he did message me yesterday, but that was about what happened [with the team’s disastrous time trial], saying sorry and things. I haven’t spoken with him about [the investigations].”

Another barb came from former Sky rider Nicholas Roche (BMC), who write a column in Ireland’s The IndependentRoche wrote that he was never asked to break or bend anti-doping rules during his two years at Team Sky. Roche also questioned why it took five years for some of the details surrounding Sky’s 2011 actions to come out.

“Almost every day since the story broke, something new seems to emerge: mysterious jiffy bags, missing medical records, stolen laptops, and we all found out about it at the same time from the internet,” Roche wrote. “Maybe I don’t have all the facts but something just doesn’t add up.”

Roche also wrote that he, like Froome, would not have signed a statement giving support to Brailsford.

Brailsford has kept a low profile, understandably so. Already last season, he never strayed far from the team bus or “Death Star,” and when he did, he would look ahead with his iPhone to his ear.

Some spotted him in the early classics with a beard. He arrived to Tuscany’s coastal town of Lido di Camaiore clean-shaven, though that has been hard to verify since he has not been seen outside his mobile office in the team’s bus and RV.

The last time Brailsford spoke to the media was Tuesday via a rare team Sky press statement addressing parliament and the UKAD inquiry. Thomas saw the cover letter and supporting eight-page document, but has not had time to read it or discuss it with his teammates.

“Not really, the riders speak to each other, but it’s more about … The [issue is] nothing to do with us. It is indirectly because we are in Team Sky, but it’s more an issue for the management and the medical team,” Thomas said.

“They put this document together but we didn’t see it until it came out. I haven’t read it all. Six pages is quite a lot to read. I’ve just got confidence in the team and that’s that.

“I don’t go on cycling websites much. No offense. I stick to what I’m doing, in my own little bubble. Some stuff filters through but with regard to distraction, I don’t get distracted at all. I’ve just been trying to lose weight and get fit. It’s a massive boost in confidence to get this win.”

The Tuscan trip has been a success even if Brailsford must still face the inquiries in England. He will take a massive boost from Thomas’s win, too. Thomas is one of Brailsford’s dearest cyclists. He rode with the British Cycling development academy and joined Sky as soon as it began in 2010. It is a good sign for Sky and for Thomas, who wants to win his first grand tour this May in Italy.