Honourable isn’t a word that has been frequently associated with professional cycling in recent weeks but it is the only one to describe Bobby Julich’s departure from Team Sky.
Julich has acted honourably by entering a process he knew would end with his sacking if he told the truth, and telling it anyway.
Dave Brailsford has acted honourably by sacrificing a talented staff member on a matter of principle.
The implications of the decisions of both men are significant.
Team Sky leads the peloton on merit. The performances of its riders have this year have made it the UCI’s number one ranked team.
It is home to the Tour de France winner and runner up, and has been, for most the year, home to the world road race champion. What happens at Team Sky matters in a way, that, with the greatest respect, events at Ag2r or Vacansoleil-DCM might not.
Team Sky’s arrival in the peloton three years ago marked a new era. Today’s announcement may do so again.
Julich’s courage sets the standard for the rest of his colleagues. Still only 40, his decision will have very real consequences (UCI president, Pat McQuaid, said Tyler Hamilton stood to gain financially from his confession; Julich patently did not). Critics wondered last week how useful the team’s policy of interviewing its riders and demanding a signed pledge would be. Julich has proved that within the team, it is regarded with deadly seriousness. Anyone who fails to follow his magnanimous example will not only shame themselves, but also a colleague who has embraced unemployment before bringing dishonor to the team.
Brailsford’s decision confronts head on the argument that it is impossible to run a team without the influence of those who have doped, such was the endemic use of performance enhancing drugs in cycling’s recent past. Team Sky is now committed entirely to proving that it is possible.
Is his zero tolerance for doping the latest manifestation of Brailsford’s outsider’s perspective (a glorious position to hold in the current circumstances)? Julich certainly believes so. “I hope that everyone understands that this team is special,” he said in a statement released to Cycling News. “Dave Brailsford had never competed in the sport at the highest level, and he set out to do things differently.”
Doing things differently has brought Brailsford a British winner of the Tour de France two years inside a five-year schedule that cynics also found laughable. His refusal to follow the accepted path now has significance that extends beyond victory or defeat. This column called on Team Sky to be the standard bearer for clean cycling. The statements today of Brailsford and Julich show that is a responsibility felt throughout the team.