An explosive report has suggested Team Sky and Bradley Wiggins used performance-enhancing drugs under the guise of treating a legitimate medical condition in order to win the 2012 Tour de France.
The long-awaited report by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee is a potential death knell for Team Sky. It calls into question exactly how they became one of the most successful outfits in British sporting history and draws a number of damaging conclusions.
The most stark is that Team Sky abused the anti-doping system to allow Wiggins, and possibly support riders, to take powerful corticosteroids to prepare them for the Tour de France. It also suggests their manager, David Brailsford, must take responsibility for abandoning an ethos of "winning clean", which was the genesis of Team Sky, as a hunger for victory took over.
The MPs who led the inquiry also suggest that many people find Team Sky’s story about an infamous jiffy bag delivery to Wiggins at a race in 2011 to be entirely implausible. The inquiry claims it was privy to further evidence that the package contained the corticosteroid triamcinolone and not the decongestant fluimucil, as was claimed by Team Sky. If that were ever proved to be true, and triamcinolone was administered to Wiggins at that time, it would amount to an anti-doping rule violation.
As it is, the report found that Team Sky abused the system of therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs), in effect a doctor’s note allowing a banned substance to be used for the treatment of a legitimate medical condition.
“From the evidence that has been received by the committee, we believe that this powerful corticosteroid [TRIAMCINOLONE]was being used to prepare Bradley Wiggins, and possibly other riders supporting him, for the Tour de France,” the report reads. “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 World Anti-Doping Agency 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.”
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.”
The report focuses on inconsistencies in accounts of what was contained in a jiffy bag package delivered to Wiggins and Team Sky during the Critérium du Dauphiné in 2011, which was the subject of a UK Anti-Doping (Ukad) investigation. Ukad closed the investigation last November after deeming it impossible to determine whether the contents were the legal decongestant fluimucil or the powerful corticosteroid triamcinolone, or something else. Dr Richard Freeman, the former Team Sky medic who ordered the package, refused to comment when asked by the DCMS inquiry what it was.
“To many people, the whole story of the package seems implausible, to say the least,” the report reads. “Further information shown to the committee claimed that the product that was requested to be sent out to the event was triamcinolone.”
The DCMS inquiry states it asked Freeman to comment on the contents of the package. Rather than confirm what Brailsford told the committee – that the package contained “only fluimucil” – Freeman said he was unable to comment, on legal advice.
The original Ukad investigation criticised the lack of medical records kept by Team Sky, particularly by Freeman, who also worked at British Cycling until his resignation last year. Freeman kept Wiggins’ medical records on a laptop that was stolen in Greece in 2014, and no back-up copy was ever made. The DCMS said Brailsford, Team Sky’s general manager, must take responsibility for this.
The report states: “How can David Brailsford ensure that his team is performing to his requirements if he does not know and cannot tell what drugs the doctors are giving the riders? David Brailsford must take responsibility for these failures, the regime under which Team Sky riders trained and competed and the damaging scepticism about the legitimacy of his team’s performance and accomplishments.”
It even hints at a possible cover-up. “Despite the fact that it was Team Sky policy for medical records of riders to be uploaded to a shared Dropbox cloud computing storage site, this was never done,” the report reads, “nor, in the three years from 2011 to 2014, did anyone at Team Sky check this, and insist that the records were uploaded. This is even more lacking in credibility given that these were not just the records for a junior rider, but those of the lead cyclist in the team.”
Wiggins’s use of triamcinolone is already known. A leak by the Russian hackers Fancy Bears in September 2016 revealed he had three intramuscular injections of triamcinolone before big grand tours including the Tour de France in 2012.
The DCMS inquiry, which began in September 2015, heard from Brailsford and Shane Sutton, a former head coach at both Team Sky and British Cycling in December 2016. Simon Cope, a former British Cycling employee who drove the jiffy bag package from the velodrome in Manchester to south-east France, also gave evidence.
Brailsford could not be reached for comment. In a statement, Team Sky said: The report details again areas in the past where we have already acknowledged that the Team fell short. We take full responsibility for mistakes that were made. We wrote to the committee in March 2017 setting out in detail the steps we took in subsequent years to put them right, including, for example, the strengthening of our medical record keeping.
“However, the report also makes the serious claim that medication has been used by the team to enhance performance. We strongly refute this. The report also includes an allegation of widespread triamcinolone use by Team Sky riders ahead of the 2012 Tour de France. Again, we strongly refute this allegation. 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.
“We take our responsibility to the sport seriously. We are committed to creating an environment at Team Sky where riders can perform to the best of their ability, and do it clean.”