Bradley Wiggins and Team Sky facing new doping claims as former coach says steroid use 'unethical'
Bradley Wiggins’ reputation, and Team Sky’s very future, is hanging by a thread after Shane Sutton effectively admitted that the notorious Jiffy bag delivered to Wiggins at the 2011 Criterium du Dauphiné, which was the subject of a 14-month probe by UK Anti-Doping, contained Triamcinolone.
If true, and if Wiggins was given an injection of the drug on the final day of that race, it would have constituted an anti-doping rule violation [ADRV] and led to a ban. Sutton, the former Team Sky coach and technical director of British Cycling, has also alleged that Wiggins’ historic win at the 2012 Tour de France was aided by the “unethical, but not illegal” use of the corticosteroid, which helps riders to lose weight without losing power.
"Drugs were being used by Team Sky, within World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) rules, to enhance the performance of riders, and not just to treat medical need," the report by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee stated.
The stunning claims are included in the long-awaited report into doping published by the DCMS, which has been two-and-a-half years in the making. They leave Dave Brailsford’s position at the helm of Team Sky looking ever more precarious.
Team Sky reacted angrily on Sunday night, saying they “strongly refute” claims that medication has been used by the team to enhance performance.
The 52-page report, however, provides fresh evidence that Team Sky “played the system” in their use of medicines, crossing “the ethical line that Brailsford says he himself drew for Team Sky”. It also suggests “the Government should give serious consideration” to criminalising the supply of doping products, and concludes that Team Sky and British Cycling should jointly pay UK Anti-Doping’s costs for the 14-month investigation into the notorious Jiffy bag delivered to Wiggins in 2011.
There are a number of fresh details contained in the report, including an admission from Wiggins himself for the first time that he used Triamcinolone out of competition. Corticosteroids such as Triamcinolone are legal to take out of competition, and even in competition with a Therapeutic Use Exemption. However, its use would be seen as unethical if not needed on medical grounds, a point Brailsford has conceded multiple times.
However, by far the most damning statement comes from Sutton, Brailsford’s right-hand man and Wiggins’ closest confidant for many years at British Cycling and Team Sky, who claimed in written correspondence with the committee that “what Brad was doing was unethical, but not against the rules”. Team Sky and Wiggins have always maintained that Wiggins used Triamcinolone to treat pollen allergies.
Worryingly, the committee heard evidence from “a well-placed and respected source” that in the build-up to the 2012 season, “Bradley Wiggins and a smaller group of riders trained separately from the rest of the team” and that “they were all using corticosteroids out of competition to lean down in preparation for the major races that season”.
Team Sky also reacted angrily to that claim. “Again, we strongly refute this allegation,” the team said in a statement. “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.”
It is Sutton’s comment regarding the Jiffy bag delivered to Wiggins in La Toussuire on the final day of the 2011 Criterium du Dauphiné, however, which is potentially of most import. He suggests the package did contain Triamcinolone – the committee made no specific finding on the point – but said he felt comfortable with that because he was aware a TUE had been applied for by Dr Richard Freeman at the end of May 2011, a few weeks before the race in question. “That’s why I thought everything was above board,” Sutton said.
If true, and if Wiggins was given an injection of the drug on the final day of that race – which would have required a TUE he did not have by then – it would have constituted an anti-doping rule violation [ADRV].
Ultimately, UKAD was unable to confirm or deny Sky’s claim that Fluimucil – a harmless decongestant – was in the package, largely because of a disturbing failure on the part of Team Sky and British Cycling to keep accurate medical records.
On Sunday night, 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 to my side across.”
With a General Medical Council investigation still ongoing into Dr Freeman and the delivery of a batch of testosterone patches to British Cycling’s headquarters in 2011, there are growing calls for Brailsford to resign. Damian Collins MP, chair of the committee, told The Daily Telegraph: “I don’t think it’s for us to call for him to resign. That’s a matter for Team Sky. But Team Sky has to take responsibility for what was a failure in their systems, a failure of the management to make sure that proper policies were being followed with regards to medicines.
“He and the team have got to win people’s confidence that they’ve learned from the mistakes of the past. And, if they can’t, then I’m sure it will be difficult for them to continue.”