Sir Dave Brailsford who in the past two years has undergone surgery for prostate cancer and a heart condition says that any further health issues would force him to give up his role as team principal of Ineos Grenadiers.
However, the 57-year-old insists that his health issues are related to stress due to the various investigations into Richard Freeman, who worked under him at British Cycling and Team Sky and who was struck off the medical register earlier this year and is also the subject of a UK Anti-doping probe.
Brailsford underwent surgery for prostate cancer in September 2019, and as we reported earlier this month, revealed on Strava that he had needed an operation for a blocked artery.
Speaking to the Guardian’s Jeremy Whittle following the conclusion of the Tour de France yesterday. Brailsford said: “If I do have any further health issues, I won’t be able to continue. I’m pretty clear about that.
“I’m trying to look after myself but I’m here to help other people, to lead and support other people. If the moment comes when you’re trying to support yourself more then it’s time to get out.”
“When you have what you think are life-threatening moments twice in the space of two years, you wonder what will happen,” he said. “The cancer one was scary but manageable, but the heart issue felt different, way more scary. Then you start asking the question: ‘How long will my health last?’”
While he did not go into the specifics of the Freeman case, he was clear that he did not believe it was linked to his recent health issues.
“It’s a stressful job, that goes with the territory,” he insisted. “Not only in the last year, but over the last 10 years I think.
“When you’re successful like we have been, you get a lot of questions asked. Coming to France in the past, and the challenges we’ve had – it’s part of the job, and it takes some resilience to deal with that.”
Ineos Grenadiers, including in its previous incarnation as Team Sky, won seven out of eight editions of the Tour de France from 2012-19.
They went into this year’s edition with arguably the strongest line-up in the race, but a crash on Stage 3 put an end to Geraint Thomas’s challenge, and while Richard Carapaz clinched a podium place, finishing third to Tadej Pogacar, he was more than 7 minutes down on the defending champion.
“When we came into the race, we knew we were up against what we thought was going to be two very strong contenders in Pogacar and Primoz Roglic,” Brailsford said.
“We felt, off the back of the week-long stage races [earlier in the season, including Thomas winning the Tour de Romandie, Richie Porter the Criterium du Dauphiné and Carapaz the Tour de Suisse], with the guys in form, that we’d be able to have a multi-pronged attack.
“But that first week Geraint crashed, there were crashes for the other guys and that changed the dynamic for us totally.
“We never got into the flow of it from there and it changed the opportunities for us. Roglic crashing out also changed the dynamic of the race so it ended up being a very different race than we expected.”
He added: “There have been two Grand Tours this year. We have won one [through Egan Bernal at the Giro d’Italia] and finished third in the other. We have won more stage races this year than we have ever won, so I’m not sure where any pessimism is coming from.”
Brailsford revealed his heart operation earlier this year in response to a post from a follower named Andy, who had said: “Glad to see you back on your bike, Dave,” before revealing that he too had “recently been diagnosed with low level prostate cancer.”
Andy said that his diagnosis had come as a “massive shock”, but said he had “decided to get back on my bike and just pedal on,” wishing Brailsford “good luck with everything, stay healthy and the best of luck at the Tour.”
Brailsford replied: “Hey Andy, the fact you caught it early is really important as it is with all health issues!
“As you may know I had prostate cancer and had it removed and then in March this year I also had heart surgery as I had a totally blocked artery and was getting pain in my chest when I rode but now I’ve never felt better!!
“Key is to get health checks regularly to catch things early and stay positive and optimistic especially as the mind has such an influence on our bodies.
“I know it’s a bit cheesy but I like the ‘bend like bamboo’ analogy for dealing with difficult challenging times – bend when it’s tough knowing it’s ok to do so and that you will bounce back as time passes by – rather than trying always staying rigid like a stick and resisting everything and eventually snapping.
“Flex, be ok doing so and bounce back. Bamboo not stick is the way Andy!!!
“Find things to be ambitious about, strive towards them and keep friends and family close!! That’s my experience anyway.”
In response, Andy said: “Really appreciate your words Dave, thank you for finding the time, right now especially ... I’m trying to keep as positive as I can, and even forget I have prostate cancer at times, I have a fantastic wife who has been a massive help and support throughout this health issue I now have, and we’re both now back out on our bikes again."
Brailsford first started posting his bike rides to Strava towards the end of 2018, and regularly shares hints and tips with his followers there, including on issues such as diet and training plans.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.