A PARLIAMENTARY report has accused Sir Bradley Wiggins and Team Sky of crossing an “ethical line” in their use of a powerful drug to prepare for races, including Wiggins’s historic 2012 Tour de France win.
The indictment is only one of several in the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee’s devastating 52-page report, which also contains the allegation that Team Sky used drugs “to enhance the performance of riders, and not just to treat medical need”.
The section on Wiggins’s use of the corticosteroid triamcinolone and UK Anti-Doping’s (UKAD) investigation into claims of wrongdoing at British Cycling and Team Sky stands out.
UKAD closed that investigation in November, having spent 15 months trying to establish if Britain’s most decorated Olympian had been given an injection of triamcinolone by Team Sky doctor Richard Freeman at the end of the Criterium du Dauphine race in June 2011.
If he had, Wiggins would have broken anti-doping rules, as triamcinolone is only allowed in competition - which he was until midnight that day - with a therapeutic use exemption (TUE). This would result in a probable two-year ban and loss of results.
Wiggins has said in response he finds 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” and that he “strongly refutes the claim that any drug was used without medical need.”
Freeman and Team Sky principal Sir Dave Brailsford have repeatedly denied the claims, too, and have stated Wiggins was given Fluimucil, a legal decongestant.
But proving or disproving that has been beyond anybody, including UKAD, because of Dr Freeman’s failure to follow protocol and share his records with colleagues - a mistake compounded by the chaotic state of the medical storeroom he used at British Cycling’s base in Manchester and then losing his laptop while on holiday in Greece three years later.
These failings, and others, have already been raised by UKAD - and British Cycling and Team Sky have introduced new procedures to prevent them from happening again - but the committee goes much further in its assessment of what happened.
Noting that it has already been established - thanks to the activities of Russian hackers the Fancy Bears - that Wiggins was given TUEs for triamcinolone before the 2011 and 2012 Tours de France and 2013 Giro d’Italia, and the first of those applications was made two weeks before the alleged treatment at the Dauphine, the report says “we do not believe there is reliable evidence that it was Fluimucil”.
Citing new evidence, the committee wrote to Dr Freeman, who it says is the only source of the Fluimucil claim, to ask him if he stood by that claim.
Dr Freeman, who resigned as British Cycling’s head doctor last year and is under investigation by the General Medical Council, wrote back to say he could not respond as he did not know “the nature of the ‘new evidence’”.
He added: “Given the potential seriousness of the matters you have now raised, I am advised that mindful of the background of various investigations which are ongoing, I should not be expected to provide any further comment to you presently.”
The committee also wrote to Wiggins’s former coach, Shane Sutton, who arranged for the delivery of the disputed medication to Dr Freeman from Manchester.
Sutton informed them that Dr Freeman had told him the May application for a TUE for triamcinolone had been approved and “that’s why I thought everything was above board”.
Sutton, Wiggins and their former boss at Team Sky, Brailsford, have always said the rider was given triamcinolone to treat asthma and pollen allergies.
But, having received “confidential material from a well-placed and respected source”, the committee disputes this and accuses the team of abusing a system intended to help athletes with long-term health issues.
“We believe 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 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.
“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.”
The committee’s report says the source told them 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”.
Another damning line in the report belongs to Sutton, Wiggins’ personal coach and long-time confidante.
“What Brad was doing was unethical but not against the rules,” wrote Sutton.
Wiggins has declined a request to comment but Team Sky has reacted angrily to the suggestion it was gaming the TUE system.
In a statement, Team Sky said: “We strongly refute this allegation (and) 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.”
British Cycling said it welcomed the report, chief executive Julie Harrington calling it “thorough and timely” and adding on the Team Sky situation: “Never again will we allow a situation to develop whereby our independence as the national governing body is called into question because of our relationship with a professional team.”