In the post-Lance Armstrong world of cycling, Bradley Wiggins and Team Sky branded themselves as being at the vanguard of the sport’s anti-doping movement.
Fast forward to Monday and a British Parliamentary report has accused 2012 Tour de France winner Wiggins and the British cycling team of crossing an “ethical line” over anti-doping rules.
The 52-page report, which was compiled by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee, alleges Team Sky used drugs allowed under anti-doping rules “to enhance the performances of riders, and not just to treat medical need.”
Briton Wiggins, who is now 37, has strenuously denied the allegations outlined against him in the report, as has Team Sky, which built its reputation on a zero tolerance approach to doping.
Wiggins was that rare breed of rider, who excelled both in track and road cycling. As well as his 2012 Tour win, across five Olympics he bagged a total of eight medals, five of those being prized gold.
The report claims Wiggins used the anti-inflammatory drug triamcinolone in preparation for the 2012 Tour de France race — cycling’s most prestigious event — which the Briton won.
A section of the report alleges Wiggins received an injection of corticosteroid triamcinolone by Team Sky doctor Richard Freeman on the final day of the Criterium du Dauphine race in June 2011.
The DCMS reports adds that Freeman had refused to give evidence to the committee while being “the only reported source of this information.” CNN was not immediately able to reach Freeman for comment.
Triamcinolone is prohibited in competition under WADA rules unless a TUE is issued. But the drug is permitted outside of competition.
The Criterium du Dauphine started on June 5 and ended on June 12.
In 2016, it was revealed that Wiggins, who suffers with asthma and retired in December of that year, was given three TUEs to use triamcinolone before the Tour de France in 2011 and 2012 as well as the 2013 Giro d’Italia.
The news came after the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) was hacked by Russian hackers, Fancy Bear.
Wiggins and his boss at Team Sky, Dave Brailsford, have always insisted that the five-time Olympic champion was given triamcinolone to treat asthma.
But the committee disputes the explanation offered by Team Sky, saying it has received “confidential material from a well-placed and respected source,” who described how the drug was used to make athletes leaner and more powerful.
Instead, it accuses the team of abusing the TUE system, which enables athletes to use a prohibited substance for the treatment of a legitimate medical condition.
“We believe that this powerful corticosteroid was being used to prepare Bradley Wiggins, and possibly other riders supporting him, for the Tour de France,” it said.
“The purpose of this was not to treat medical need, but to improve his power-to-weight ratio ahead of the race.
“The application for the TUE … also meant that he benefited from the performance-enhancing properties of this drug during the race.
“This does not constitute a violation of the WADA code, but it does cross the ethical line that David Brailsford says he himself drew for Team Sky.”
The report also stated that the source had informed them that Wiggins and a “smaller group of riders” trained separately from the team in 2012 and were all “using corticosteroids out of competition to lean down in preparation for the major races”.
‘Ethical gray areas’
Speaking to CNN Monday Damian Collins, the British lawmaker who chaired the committee, urged for more clarity over sport’s “ethical gray areas.”
“I think one of the issues people would right struggle to understand is why is it we have these ethical gray areas in sport where medicines are used — and they can be used to treat a medical need but also have known performance enhancing properties?” Collins said.
“Why is it that people can take medication in that way and gain a competitive edge from it? I think most people would say, ‘well, that shouldn’t be allowed’ and therefore we should look to redraw the rules around the use of medicines in sport so that medication that is used to treat a medical need shouldn’t also have performance enhancing properties.
“If a patient is so sick that they genuinely require that treatment, they shouldn’t be able to compete whilst benefiting from that drug.”
Collins said the DCMS report was “not just based on the evidence of one person — be that anonymous or on the record, but a variety of evidence we collected, both written and oral evidence.”
He added:” One of the key people that gave evidence on the record and addressed the key question around the ethics of drug use was Shane Sutton, Bradley Wiggins’ coach at the time.
“So, people can read for themselves the evidence we gathered, both identifying the use of the drug, the amount of the drug the team ordered and used and people’s comments on who they believe that drug was for.”
‘Put my side across’
In a tweet late Sunday, Wiggins said: “I find it so sad that accusations can be made, where people can be accused of things they have never done which are then regarded as facts.”
He added: “I strongly refute the claim that any drug was used without medical need. I hope to have my say in the next few days and & put my side across.”
Team Sky also rejected the allegations in the report.
“The report also makes the serious claim that medication has been used by the Team to enhance performance. We strongly refute this,” Team Sky said in a statement.
“The report also includes an allegation of widespread triamcinolone use by Team Sky riders ahead of the 2012 Tour de France.
“Again, we strongly refute this allegation. We are surprised and disappointed that the Committee has chosen to present an anonymous and potentially malicious claim in this way, without presenting any evidence or giving us an opportunity to respond.
“This is unfair both to the Team and to the riders in question.”
In a statement, British Cycling said it welcomed the report, while confirming that Freeman was under investigation by the General Medical Council.
it also said that it shared the Parliamentary Committee’s concerns with regards to TUEs.
“Medical treatment of any kind should only be used to address clinical need and never to enhance performance,” British Cycling CEO Julie Harrington said in a statement.
Much attention in the DCMS report is given to a “jiffy bag” which was delivered to Wiggins and Team Sky during the 2011 Criterium du Dauphine.
The incident was investigated by UK Anti-Doping (UKAD), which concluded it could not determine whether the package contained the legal decongestant fluimucil, as claimed by Wiggins and Brailsford, or the corticosteroid triamcinolone, or something else.
What was in that bag has never been proven. Former Team Sky doctor Freeman failed to share his records with colleagues. He said he also lost his laptop, which contained Wiggins’ medical records, while on holiday in Greece.
In December 2016, Brailsford told a DCMS hearing that Freeman, who was the team’s doctor at the time, told him the bag contained fluimucil which is a legal decongestant.
But this latest report said it had “no verifiable evidence” that it was fluimucil in the package, adding that Freeman had refused to give evidence to the committee.
The latest revelations are a further blow for Team Sky after its four-time Tour de France champion Chris Froome failed a drugs test in September.
Froome was found to have double the allowed level of legal asthma drug Salbutamol in his urine test on September 7 during the Vuelta a Espana, which he went on to win.
The levels of the drug in Froome’s urine test were at 2,000 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml) — double WADA’s 1,000 ng/ml threshold.
Froome has denied any wrongdoing and pledged to cooperate fully with an investigation.