A report published today by a parliamentary committee examining doping in sport has given a damning verdict on Team Sky, concluding that it crossed an “ethical line” in using drugs not just for medical need but also to enhance riders’ performance, including ahead of the 2012 Tour de France when Sir Bradley Wiggins became the first Briton to win cycling’s biggest race.
That latter finding has been strongly contested by the British UCI WorldTour outfit, which said in a statement issued this morning that it is “surprised and disappointed” that the committee decided “to present an anonymous and potentially malicious claim in this way, without presenting any evidence or giving us an opportunity to respond,” which it said was “unfair both to the team and to the riders in question.”
In a post to Twitter published shortly after the report's release at midnight, 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. 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."
Entitled Combatting Doping In Sport, the report released by the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee follows an inquiry initially set up in August 2015 in response to articles in The Sunday Times regarding allegations of doping in athletics.
The scope widened to include cycling following the publication by the Fancy Bears hacking group of following the Rio 2016 of information relating to the use of Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs) by Wiggins and other riders.
Copies of certificates published by the group showed that Wiggins used the corticosteroid triamcinolone ahead of key races including the 2012 Tour de France. It has been claimed he used the drug to treat his asthma.
However, the report published today casts doubt on that assertion. It states: “From the evidence that has been received by the committee, we believe that this powerful corticosteroid was being used to prepare Bradley Wiggins, and possibly other riders supporting him, for the Tour de France.
“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 for the triamcinolone for Bradley Wiggins, ahead of the 2012 Tour de France, also meant that he benefited from the performance-enhancing properties of this drug during the race.
“This does not constitute a violation of the World Anti-Doping Agency code, but it does cross the ethical line that [Sir] David Brailsford says he himself drew for Team Sky. In this case, and contrary to the testimony of David Brailsford in front of the committee, we believe that drugs were being used by Team Sky, within the Wada rules, to enhance the performance of riders, and not just to treat medical need.”
Key support riders working for Wiggins at the 2012 Tour de France included Chris Froome, who has won four of the five subsequent editions of the race, Michael Rogers, who has since retired, and Richie Porte, now with BMC Racing. Current Team Sky rider Geraint Thomas missed the race since he was preparing to ride the team pursuit at the London Olympics.
The report highlights written evidence from a whistleblower described as “well respected within the cycling community and [who] held a senior position at Team Sky at the time of the events under investigation,” and who stated their belief that “TUEs were used tactically by the team to support the health of a rider with an ultimate aim of supporting performance.”
Regarding the Jiffy Bag delivered to former Team Sky doctor Richard Freeman at the 2011 Criterium du Dauphiné containing medicine for Wiggins, the committee notes that there was no verifiable source for the assertion that it contained the legal decongestant, fluimucil, noting that “to many people, the whole story of the package seems implausible, to say the least.”
The package, and the use of TUEs, were the subject of an inquiry by UK Anti-doping (UKAD) last year which concluded that in the absence of medical records kept by Team Sky and British Cycling, it was impossible to determine what was inside it.
But today’s report states that “an allegation was made to UKAD, and has been seen by the committee, that says it was triamcinolone,” which if true, would have constituted an anti-doping rule violation.
“We do not believe there is reliable evidence that it was Fluimucil as Dr Freeman will not now confirm it was and, previously, he was the only reported source of this information,” the report continued.
“The mystery surrounding the delivery of the package, and the extraordinary lengths to which Team Sky went to obtain an easily available drug delivered to them, have also fuelled speculation as to what the package might have contained.
“There remains no documented evidence as to what was in the package. If the package contained triamcinolone, which we know Bradley Wiggins, or his team, wanted him to take around 30 May 2011, and it was indeed taken, then the impacts and consequences on all concerned would have been profound.”
The report says: “Responsibility for the continued doubt on this matter rests on British Cycling, Team Sky and the individuals concerned, all of whom have failed to keep simple records.
“Such failure was unprofessional and inexcusable, and that failure is responsible for the damaging cloud of doubt which continues to hang over this matter.”
The report is highly critical of Brailsford. It says he “must take responsibility for these failures, the regime under which Team Sky riders trained and competed and the damaging scepticism about the legitimacy of his team’s performance and accomplishments.”
Since the committee concluded gathering its evidence, Team Sky has been further rocked by the revelation in December that Froome returned an adverse analytical finding for twice the permitted level of the anti-asthma drug salbutamol at last year’s Vuelta, which he won. That case is still ongoing.
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.