Drug investigation leaves British cycling’s credibility ‘in tatters’
Mystery surrounding Bradley Wiggins teams’ handling of medication grows
After fuelling Britain’s transformation into an Olympic superpower, the country’s cycling reputation is being damaged by a medical mystery that keeps on growing.
Britain’s anti-doping agency and legislators have spent months trying to verify the medication administered to Britain’s most decorated Olympian, Bradley Wiggins, a year before he won the 2012 Tour de France.
Even after interviewing Wiggins, UK Anti-Doping is no closer to resolving a case that has exposed a lack of attention to detail that contrasts with the meticulous reputation crafted by Team Sky and British Cycling for precision planning, as the team sought “marginal gains” in the pursuit of glory.
In a British parliamentary hearing on Wednesday, Ukad chief executive Nicole Sapstead landed a bombshell: Team Sky maintained no records of the substance Wiggins required at the 2011 Dauphine Libere race in France.
“I would expect, particularly for a professional road cycling team that was founded on the premise of exhibiting that road racing could be conducted cleanly, to have records that would be able to demonstrate any inferences to the contrary,” Sapstead said.
Damian Collins, the culture, media and sports committee chairman, added after the hearing that the “credibility of Team Sky and British Cycling is in tatters. They are in a terrible position”.
At a previous hearing in December, Team Sky chief Dave Brailsford said Fluimucil, a brand name for a legal decongestant containing acetylcysteine used for clearing mucus, was couriered to Wiggins in a package in 2011. That disclosure followed two months of silence from Team Sky about the package that was a public secret for five years before a newspaper report in October.
But there is no paper trail or written evidence of the treatment and Sapstead said on Wednesday that Ukad is investigating whether the substance was in fact the banned corticosteroid called triamcinolone.
“We have asked for inventories and medical records and we have not been able to ascertain that because there are no records,” Sapstead said.
Triamcinolone is the drug for which Wiggins gained a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) to have injected on three specific occasions between 2011 and 2013. Details of those only emerged following a leak of medical records from the hackers Fancy Bears last year.
Sapstead said British Cycling stored a significant amount of triamcinolone and said either there was “an excessive amount ... ordered for one person or quite a few people had a similar problem”.
“It’s difficult because a lack of record,” Sapstead said.
Sapstead said Richard Freeman, Wiggins’ doctor, who pulled out of the hearing citing illness, did not follow procedures by uploading details of medical treatment to a Team Sky internet storage account and then had a laptop supposedly containing the information stolen.
Former British Cycling employee Simon Cope, who couriered the package to the race in France in 2011, told legislators he never thought to ask what it contained despite carrying it on a plane from England. Cope was repeatedly asked about how he could respond to airport security questions truthfully without knowing what the substance was.
“My boss asked me to do something, I don’t question my boss. I want to keep my job,” Cope said. “Why would I question the integrity of our governing body?”
Asked about his expenses for the trip, Cope astonished legislators by saying: “’’I might have been trying to fiddle them. We all do that, don’t we?”
For its part, Team Sky said it was “confident there has been no wrongdoing”.
“Our commitment to anti-doping has been one of the founding principles of the team from the very start,” the team said.
The team was established in 2009 by Brailsford, the brains behind Britain’s 14 medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, with the target of producing the country’s first Tour de France winner.
Brailsford held dual roles with the governing body and the team sponsored by the Sky satellite broadcaster before stepping down from his performance director job at British Cycling in 2014.
A shared medical storage facility in Manchester is emblematic of the blurred lines between the two, supposedly separate entities are at the heart of the case that anti-doping investigators and legislators are trying to untangle.
“The impression that has been given is that a doctor like Dr Freeman has just been ordering drugs at will and no record is being kept of what he is doing with them,” Collins, the committee chairman, said after the hearing. “British Cycling has fallen well short of the standards we should expect from a national governing body.”
In the last year, British Cycling has also been embroiled in allegations of bullying and sexism, with an investigation report awaiting publication.