'It's too easy for athletes to abuse TUE system' - Team Sky's Nicolas Roche
Team Sky have been assured of the “full and continued support” of backers BSkyB despite the ongoing UK Anti-Doping investigation into allegations of wrongdoing.
The public vote of confidence came as yet another of the team’s riders, the soon-to-be-departing Irishman Nicolas Roche, criticised Team Sky’s historic use of therapeutic use exemptions, describing Bradley Wiggins’s three legal injections of the corticosteroid triamcinolone prior to three of the biggest races of his career as “ethically wrong” even if they did not break any rules.
Confusion reigned on Monday over Wiggins’s participation in next week’s Abu Dhabi Tour, with the organisers of the four-day race adamant the 2012 Tour de France champion would compete but no confirmation from the rider himself.
Some sources have suggested that Wiggins may come under pressure to skip the final three races of his career – the Abu Dhabi Tour, and the London and Ghent Six Day races – while the UKAD investigation is ongoing.
Wiggins’s management claimed he would ride the Six Day races at least “as planned”.
The furore surrounding the 36-year-old’s three TUEs, which came to light last month after the World Anti-Doping Agency was hacked by the Fancy Bears hacking group, was already hugely damaging to his and Team Sky’s reputation. But the situation escalated further last week after it emerged that UKAD had launched an official investigation into a medical package delivered to Team Sky by a British Cycling employee on the final day of the Critérium du Dauphiné in 2011.
That revelation came on the same day as former Team Sky rider Jonathan Tiernan-Locke claimed a British Cycling doctor – Richard Freeman, who was also Wiggins’s doctor at the time – had “freely offered” the controversial painkiller Tramadol around the GB team at the 2012 World Championships, regardless of whether riders were ill or not.
With the questions piling up, and with Team Sky’s future – not to mention that of team principal Sir Dave Brailsford – coming under serious scrutiny, BSkyB decided to issue a vote of confidence .
Graham McWilliam, the deputy head of Sky News and the chairman of Team Sky’s board, released a short message on Twitter saying there was “no equivocation” on Sky’s part, that Sky believed in the team’s innocence and that the board would continue to support the team now and “in the future”.
“Keep your feet firmly on the ground and stay focused on what’s important,” McWilliam wrote. “For Team Sky that’s racing and winning, the right way. That’s what we’ve done from the start and that’s what we’ll continue to do in the future. I can assure you of Sky’s full and continued support. There is no equivocation on our part. We trust you, we believe in you and we remain as excited about this sport as ever.”
McWilliam was criticised by some fans who questioned whether it was wise to offer unconditional support to a team before the results of the UKAD investigation were published. BSkyB’s confidence, however, may indicate it knows what was in the package and is sure there is nothing incriminating.
Either way, the team suffered another blow when Roche decided to speak out on the TUE issue, offering another glimpse of the attitude of riders within the team after Chris Froome spoke up in similar fashion two weeks ago.
Like Froome, Roche called on cycling’s governing body, the UCI, and Wada to address the “abuse” of the system.
“Like I said already on my Twitter a few weeks ago, when Wada was hacked the first time and before the Wiggins story, there is a major problem with TUEs,” the Irishman, who joins BMC Racing in 2017, told cyclingnews.com after Team Sky finished fourth in the world team trial in Doha on Sunday.
“There is a problem with the actual system. Again, you can do whatever you want against Wiggins but unfortunately, as far as ethically it’s wrong, he is within the rules. It is wrong that these rules are like that. That’s where the main problem is.
“It’s a problem not just in cycling, but in all sport. There was something like 6,000 TUEs this year. To be honest, this year I was sick three times and I never needed a TUE, so there is a real problem on the easiness of getting TUEs and how athletes can abuse them.
“I think if you work on that then you have a solution. But the problem is much more than Wiggins, it’s the whole system that needs to be revised.”
Roche said the furore had not affected Team Sky in Doha. “It’s related to 2011, when I think two-thirds of us here today were not even on the team. It’s something we have more info on from reading the media than anything else. We learn about it on Twitter and the internet. That’s how much we know about it.
“You just get the info at the same time as everybody else."