The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has said it is considering a full ban of corticosteroids such as triamcinolone – the drug used by Sir Bradley Wiggins under a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) ahead of races including the 2012 Tour de France, which he won – due to abuse of the system by drugs cheats.
TUEs allow athletes to take, where there is a medical need, substances that would ordinarily be banned due to their performance enhancing properties. However, many believe that some exploit the rules to gain an edge on their rivals.
Speaking at the Speaking at the Tackling Doping in Sport conference in London today, WADA director-general Olivier Niggli said the organisation had set up a working party to look into TUEs since “the system as it is now is not good,” reports the Guardian.
Referring to the presence of corticosteroids in products such as creams used to treat saddle sores, he said it was impossible to distinguish between those who used them for genuine medical conditions, and those who are looking to cheat.
“In fact, only those who are being honest about what they have been doing get caught – otherwise you always say ‘it was a cream’ and you get away with it,” Niggli added.
Data published by the Fancy Bears hacking group after last year’s Rio Olympics, where Wiggins won gold in the team pursuit to become Great Britain’s most decorated Olympian, revealed that he had been granted TUEs to take triamcinolone ahead of three key races.
Those were the 2011 and 2012 editions of the Tour de France and the 2013 Giro d’Italia, with the TUEs issued so that the drug – also known as Kenacort – could be used to treat his asthma and allergies.
Questions have been raised about the timing of those TUEs; the 2011 and 2012 ones were each issued in late June, around a week before the Tour de France began, while the third one was dated in late April, a week or so ahead of the Giro.
After those TUE details were published last year, David Millar – a team mate at Garmin-Slipstream of Wiggins at the 2009 Tour de France where he emerged as a surprise contender for the overall title – described his own experience of triamcinolone, which enables users to shed weight without losing power.
“I took EPO and testosterone patches, and they obviously produce huge differences in your blood and you felt at your top level,” he said.
“Kenacort, though, was the only one you took and three days later you looked different. It’s quite scary because it’s catabolic so it’s eating into you. It felt destructive. It felt powerful.”
Millar added: “We shouldn’t have to face this. If it’s that strong we shouldn’t be allowed to take it unless there is a serious issue. And if we’re suffering from that serious an issue, we shouldn’t be racing. I don’t know how a doctor could prescribe it. I can’t fathom it.”
While Wiggins’ TUEs were granted in accordance with the rules and authorised by the UCI, as matters stand no anti-doping rule violation has been committed.
In response to Niggli’s comments today, UK Anti-doping (UKAD) chief executive Nicole Sapstead said: “If they introduce an outright ban on corticosteroids then great.
“It can’t be right when somebody doesn’t actually have a medical problem that warrants their use and it then has some additional effects that they can benefit from.”
Last week, Sapstead claimed that the amount of triamcinolone ordered by Team Sky could not be explained by TUEs issued to a single rider.
She was giving evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee for Culture, Media and Sport as part of its investigation into combatting doping in sport, which been trying to determine the contents of a medical package flown out to former Team Sky doctor Richard Freeman at the Criterium du Dauphiné in 2011.
UKAD has been investigating the episode, and while Team Sky and Sir Dave Brailsford yesterday repeated their insistence that the package contained the decongestant Fluimucil, which is not banned, some – including former pro cyclist turned journalist Paul Kimmage – believe it may have contained triamcinolone.
With the medicine administered to Wiggins on the Team Sky bus immediately after the final stage of the race, where he claimed the overall win, on 12 June – more than a fortnight before his TUE came into force – such suspicions will continue to damage the reputation of both Wiggins, and his former team.
Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.