Cycling

'You Went To Bat For Team Sky': David Walsh Was Seriously Grilled On 'Off The Ball'

'You Went To Bat For Team Sky': David Walsh Was Seriously Grilled On 'Off The Ball'

David Walsh Off the Ball interview: the 'Sunday Times' journalist was given a serious grilling by the show's hosts, Joe Molloy and Ger Gilroy, about his investigation of suspicions regarding Team Sky and Dave Brailsford.

Walsh is well-placed to talk about the scandal engulfing Team Sky at the moment given that he spent thirteen weeks with the team in 2013 and came out with the book 'Inside Team Sky' at the end of that period. Walsh has stated his support of Chris Froome in the 'Times' but recently said that team principal Dave Brailsford should step aside.

This was following the revelations during the summer from Russian hacking group 'Fancy Bears'. They released documents showing that British Tour de France winner (with Sky) Bradley Wiggins had been prescribed a powerful drug (triamcinolone) before appearances in three 'Grand Tours'. Wiggins would have taken the drug through injections and this contradicts a claim he made in a 2012 book that he had never had an injection (apart from vaccinations). The news that a 'mystery package' (now revealed to be Fluimucil) was delivered to Wiggins in the middle of the 2011 Tour de France didn't help Brailsford's cause and his attempts to cover up the story - including offering information on opposing teams to the journalist posing the questions - have really increased the pressure on him.

Walsh was on 'Off the Ball' to discuss the saga and Molloy and Gilroy spent a significant part of the interview putting him under pressure for what they suggested might have been a lack of questions asked by Walsh of Sky compared to his infamous pursuit of Lance Armstrong. Joe Molloy even admitted feeling "bad" at one point for probing Walsh so severely, given Walsh's career in reporting on drugs in cycling.

Walsh said that the whole affair has showed that Brailsford is "not who he says he is". Here is a transcription of part of the interview where Walsh is questioned in a particularly persistent manner by the presenters.

Walsh: People will extend those questions to Chris Froome, there's no question about that. Chris Froome knows that. I've always believed in Chris Froome. Is your confidence shaken a bit? I still believe but the need for questions is greater than ever because what we now realise is that Dave Brailsford was basically telling us lies of admission.

I have had one conversation with Dave Brailsford since this all came up and said to him, 'Do you realise that when you were inviting me into the team, if you had told me (about Bradley Wiggins' TUEs in 2011 and 2012) I wouldn't have gone near your team, because that is completely wrong what you did...no journalist would have accepted that and thought that was OK, because that wasn't OK. You've won the Tour de France with a guy who got a seriously performance-enhancing corticosteroid four days before the race started when nobody remembers him being sick.'

And all I heard on the other end of the line was silence.

Ger Gilroy: It's very late in the day for that though, right? At that point this is maybe 2016, some time between September and December 2016...

DW: This was like two days, I didn't know about Bradley Wiggins' TUEs, how was I meant to know about them?

GG: Well I guess you went to bat for Team Sky...

DW: I didn't go to bat for Team Sky. I was a journalist...

GG: 'Why I Believe In Chris Froome' was the headline on your piece in the 'Times', and he's the leader of Team Sky... and also you wrote the book on Team Sky which in many ways holds them up as a paradigm of sporting excellence...

(Walsh laughs)

GG: It does...

DW: Dave Brailsford hated the book.

Joe Molloy: But that's irrelevant though. You were asked on Twitter, someone asked you if you felt that you were used to give them legitimacy and you said, 'There are times when I do think that.' On the basis of thirteen weeks with them - and correct me if I'm wrong here, but I was trying to check if you'd had a similar experience with other teams to compare them to, like, a similar frame of reference to compare their marginal games with other teams, I didn't see any similar (examples) - on the basis of that period, your book did come out very strongly in favour of, 'These guys are doing things differently, they're doing it clean'. It did celebrate the marginal gains...do you regret coming out as strongly or...as quickly as you did? Surely the situation at the end of 2013 from your point of view should have been, 'I haven't seen anything yet but there are a ton of question marks over these guys'?

DW: I wouldn't have said 'a ton of question marks'. I don't think I came out prematurely, I spent thirteen weeks with the team, I wrote the piece about Chris Froome...but I still believe in him. It's not like I look at Bradley Wiggins' TUEs and the medical package brought over for Bradley Wiggins and I go, 'Well, that proves that Chris Froome is doping.' It doesn't.

Walsh asked Gilroy and Molloy, "Remind me of the journalist who wrote two months ago that Brailsford should resign"(it was Walsh). He said it would be a "good decision" for Froome to leave Sky but said that he appreciates "that there are contractual concerns and it might not be so easy". He put Froome in the "top 5" of people who have criticised Sky.

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GG: Why didn't you cover the 2012 Tour?

DW: Because I hadn't covered the Tour de France since 2004.

GG: But Bradley Wiggins was about to win it, and he's British, and you work for the biggest British Sunday newspaper as their chief sportswriter.

DW: Because I wasn't asked by my boss to cover it...I hadn't been on the race for eight years - and I just had no interest in covering it. Bradley Wiggins was one of the favourites in 2011. I had no interest in covering it then.

GG: But it wasn't because you had doubts (about Wiggins)?

DW: It wasn't that I had doubts about Bradley Wiggins, I was just fed up of covering the sport. I didn't cover Armstrong at the Tour in 2005, his last one, I didn't cover it in 2006, 2007, 2008...

GG: But there was no Brit (in contention). It's kind of like not covering the Formula One if Lewis Hamilton is going to win it. This is the biggest sports event in that month, and you're their chief sportswriter.

DW: Yeah, and you could just as easily argue that 2010 was the biggest Team Sky Tour de France because it was their first, and I had no interest. You could argue that Bradley Wiggins won the Dauphine in 2011, he was going in as one of the big favourites, that was the one to cover - I wasn't interested. 2012 in my eyes was no different to those.

GG: And do you regret that? Do you regret not asking these questions of Brailsford earlier given now that it looks like he is willing to do whatever it takes to win in a sport that has serious question marks over its pedigree?

DW: I asked lots of questions. I've plenty of reasons for regrets in my life. The Team Sky one actually isn't actually that high up there.

GG: So you have no regrets over the book?

DW: Of course I have plenty of regrets. But it's not something I'm lying awake at night...I look at my work in the Sunday Times - and they're the people that I've got a responsibility to - I look at my coverage of the Sky story and I'm relatively happy with it. There are loads of things I'd do differently if I did it again, but that's always the case. You're never happy with what you write.

Paul Kimmage wasn't best pleased with some of Walsh's comments during the interview. He gave a live text update throughout the course of the 45-minute piece.

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Kimmage seems to find it hard to resist an opportunity to criticise Walsh these days. Not so long ago he went after Walsh in his 'Sindo' column shortly before hammering Walsh on Newstalk, declaring their relationship to be "dead".

There was widespread praise for the interview, though some felt Walsh had been treated a bit too harshly.

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You can listen to the full and engrossing interview with Walsh here.

SEE ALSO: Another Twist As Brailsford's Attempt To Kill Daily Mail's Team Sky Story Revealed

Conall Cahill

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