Monday 17 June 2019

Paul Hayward: Team Sky’s high ideals have been compromised – there is surely no way back for them now


Bradley Wiggins. Photo: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images
Bradley Wiggins. Photo: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images

Paul Hayward

There is no way back for Team Sky, the self-proclaimed safe space for clean cycling. The "ethical" transgressions exposed by parliamentarians and journalists are so at odds with the claims made by Dave Brailsford's operation that the only option is closure.

High ideals can bring you low - fast, and with a crash. Team Sky emerged from the degradation of the Lance Armstrong era to prove a specific moral and sporting point. Races - especially the Tour de France - could be won clean. Pharmaceutical assistance would be replaced by technology, by science, by marginals gains. While no legal line was crossed, according to the devastating parliamentary report, the therapeutic use exemption (TUE) system was misused and performances were thus enhanced (Team Sky "strongly refute" this). The team's whole raison d'etre was compromised, and the only place for it now is oblivion.

No pre-judgement needs to be made on Chris Froome's current positive doping test for us to think: the party's over. The report alone provides the basis for the team to be dismantled.

The conclusion on Team Sky's handling of Bradley Wiggins (below) is not ambiguous. It states: "From the evidence that has been received by the Committee regarding the use of triamcinolone at Team Sky during the period under investigation, and particularly in 2012, 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 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."

This damning passage is contested by Team Sky. Wiggins too denies any wrongdoing. But there is no escaping the contradiction at the heart of the team's manifesto, launched in 2010 amid such excitement.

In January of that year, 'Cycling Weekly' reported from the unveiling: "This is the first British ProTour team. It will be the first British-backed team to ride the Tour de France since ANC-Halfords in 1987. And it will do so with a British leader, a core of British riders and a back-up team that has helped enable Olympic success after Olympic success."

Zero tolerance of drugs was at the heart of that quest. And when a US anti-doping (Usada) report blew the lid on Armstrong, Team Sky, in 2012, were unequivocal about staff members who had worked in teams where doping had been exposed. In a statement, they said: "Team Sky has had a clear position on doping from the very start. We are a clean team and have shown it is possible to win clean. We want a team in which riders are free of the risks of doping and in which fans - new and old - can believe without any doubt or hesitation.

"There is no place in Team Sky for those with an involvement in doping, whether past or present. This applies to management, support staff and riders."

The allegation in the parliamentary report is not that Brailsford, Shane Sutton and company were running a secret doping operation. It is that riders were given medical substances that could not be fully explained by medical need. But there are other serious failures, principally around the jiffy bag mystery that added intrigue to the hearings.

From the report, again: "The failure to keep proper medical records was not just a breach of Team Sky policy, but also that of the General Medical Council (GMC), and the Medicine and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHPRA)."

And: "Team Sky's accounts of what happened in La Toussuire have also been inconsistent. It was initially claimed that the package Simon Cope brought out to La Toussuire was for the British women's team cyclist, Emma Pooley, and not for Bradley Wiggins. However, it was later confirmed that, at that time, Emma Pooley was 700 miles away in Spain. Team Sky also claimed that the team bus, containing both Dr Freeman and the package, had left La Toussuire before Bradley Wiggins had completed his post-race media commitments, until video evidence proved that this was not the case."

Inconsistent evidence, missing medical records, the pattern of treatments before cycling's biggest races: even without the evidence of an unnamed whistleblower, to which Team Sky have objected, this is not a body of evidence that suggests Brailsford's supposed masterwork still has a future in the game. Its standing as a British enterprise that took on the Tour establishment and won has been stripped of its validity.

With its idealism shot down, and some of its great victories tarnished by this report, Team Sky have no hold on us, no reason to make us watch or care. The last of the faith has gone. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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