Sky Diving

By The Way - Weekly Columns


Sky Diving By Steph It’s really hard to admit when you’re in the wrong isn’t it? Such as when something you’ve believed in, stood up for and thrown your whole-hearted support behind has been a sham all along. Well here I am holding my hands up and saying it. I WAS WRONG. I fell for it and so did a huge proportion of the British public. Suckered by grandiose claims of ‘doing it clean’ and riding a euphoric wave of national pride in 2012 I was swept away with admiration for the heroic achievements of Bradley Wiggins, Team Sky, success in the velodrome and the man who orchestrated it all - Mr Marginal Gains himself, Dave Brailsford. I understand that cycling as a TV spectacle isn’t for everyone but once you’re into it, it grabs you and you’re hooked. So many personalities, nuances, different skills, tactics at play and let’s face it, some spectacular crashes. What’s not to love? Well, the preponderance of cheats and liars for one thing. The report released yesterday by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on Combatting Doping in Sport hasn’t really revealed anything new to those who have been following the saga. What it has done, with the benefit of Parliamentary Privilege, is state publicly what the media cannot do without facing libel issues. The most damning part being this: “110. 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.” Now I’ll forgive you if you haven’t been following this case that closely up to now but ever since those pesky Fancy Bears released Wiggins TUE information just after the Rio Olympics I’ve been all over it. I REALLY wanted it all to be a fuss about nothing, jealous rivals slinging mud to see if any would stick, that sort of thing, but it became clear very quickly that this was much more serious. Wiggins seemed nervous and evasive in the Marr interview, Brailsford was often elusive and when he did appear he spoke in such a condescending way to respected cycling journalists as though they couldn’t possibly understand what was going on here. So, I took it upon myself to report on the two relevant DCMS committee hearings where Team Sky, British Cycling and UKAD bigwigs got a grilling. You can read my coverage in the links here and they were actually a lot more entertaining than you’d imagine! Shane Sutton was additionally interviewed in a documentary for BBC last year where he said that TUEs were used as ‘marginal gains’. That has been a big slap in the face for Wiggins who did really trust him - Wiggins even stood up for Sutton back when he was sacked by British Cycling after allegations of bullying, sexist remarks made to Jess Varnish and derogatory remarks about disabled cyclists. Sutton now works for the Chinese track cycling team where he probably fits in very well.

Wiggins apparently requested to be interviewed for BBC by Dan Roan yesterday which to be honest is not the easiest choice of interrogator, Roan has been on the case with this and other reporters should be given credit here too - Matt Lawton, Sean Ingle, Steve Scott and Paul Kimmage spring to mind. Also, DCMS Committee Chair Damian Collins is my favourite Tory, if there can be such a thing! In relation to that letter Wiggins said in the interview that he’d only just found out yesterday what he was being accused of. That’s really hard to believe as the hearings were open and widely reported and I saw that whistle-blower letter months ago so it’s unlikely Wiggins was unaware of it - I’m not likely to forget the letter as it has the only reference to anything remotely dodgy involving my beloved Cav in the whole murky matter. I do believe Bradley Wiggins when he says his life is like a “living hell” but I’m not sure I believe much else. I want to but it’s hard. He reckons someone is waging a malicious smear campaign against him - a whistle-blower who wrote anonymously to the DCMS committee. Thing is, the most plausible answer is probably the truth and the most plausible answer is not a good one. Here’s the full transcript of the interview:

Part of the reason all of this is such a big deal is that when Team Sky was established in 2010 it was with the much fanfared aim to win the Tour de France, preferably with a British rider, within 5 years and TO WIN IT CLEAN. Dave Brailsford portrayed himself as some kind of clean crusader and must have really got up the noses of other DS’s on the World Tour circuit with his and Team Sky’s holier-than-thou attitude. They declared a zero-tolerance attitude to doping on the team. To be fair the state of cycling at the time was pretty low after Festina as blood doping and EPO cheats continued to be caught. Then of course in 2013 there was the one who famously “never failed a drug test” but turned out to be cycling’s all time biggest cheat of the lot who in the end didn’t win 7 TdFs.

As Brailsford himself would say “Let’s be clear”, Bradley Wiggins has also never failed a drugs test. Nor has he been accused of blood doping or taking EPO. What he and Team Sky are accused of is manipulating the existing system at the time to take advantage of the performance enhancing ‘side-effects’ of a drug purportedly taken for genuine medical reasons. But taking triamcinolone for asthma/hay fever is like the proverbial sledge hammer to crack a nut. It is also very powerful in improving power to weight ratio - essentially it causes significant, rapid weight loss without reducing muscle power. The DCMS report is suggesting that Team Sky were not only doing this via TUE for Bradley during the period discussed, they were also probably giving it to him *and to other riders* out of competition (allowed at the time). Which would explain why the UKAD investigation found that significantly more triamcinolone had been ordered than the 3 TUEs covered plus one other dose Wiggins admits to (as many as 55 doses). There’s a whole stack more stuff in the report, all of which is pretty damning for Team Sky and David Brailsford: • Tramadol abuse • Testosterone patches - now believed to have been deliberately ordered • Hiring dodgy doctors like Geert Leinders • Bullying • Lying • The truth about the jiffy bag • Dr Richard Freeman not giving evidence and now referred to the GMC • Record keeping • The ‘stolen’ laptop On top of all that the Chris Froome saga rumbles on. He’s still riding with an Adverse Analytical Finding (AAF) hanging over him and will start the Tirreno-Adriatico on Wednesday under a cloud of too much Salbutamol. I’ve seen bookies taking bets on Wiggins having the 2012 Tour de France taken off him. That’s not going to happen because he didn’t break the rules - he had a TUE, approved by a WADA doctor - but if it did then guess who would be declared winner of that Tour? Yep, Chris Froome was 2nd in 2012. Also, back in 2012 knighthoods were being chucked about like confetti and I suspect those are in greater jeopardy for Wiggins, Brailsford and Mo Farah too. As a collection of cyclists, I do still admire many of Team Sky’s riders but you can’t help but look at them with a VERY sceptical eye as they emerge from behind the curtain on the death star (Sky’s team bus) now. Geraint Thomas has been there from the start, loyal and tight lipped. Michal Kwiatkowski is another favourite of mine, amongst others. I find myself wanting them to move on to new teams because I just can’t be supporting them in Sky colours. Just so long as they don’t go to Astana. I think it’s now 50/50 whether Team Sky survive all this. Sky (the media company) must be losing patience with this very expensive toy they maintain. As for Brailsford, he surely must be close to resigning if not under pressure to do so although recent reports suggest he has the full support of the bosses. Weirdly, it is only a couple of weeks since this news that he has only just become a permanent employee of Team Sky rather than a consultant of their parent company Tour Racing Ltd. What a mess. As a sports fan in general I believe this is the tip of the iceberg, UKAD and WADA focus on cycling and athletics but the problem is much more widespread and as the DCMS report states funding for UKAD needs to be addressed - just one person investigating doping for 47 sports? Not even gonna touch the sides. “127.A primary conclusion from our evidence session is the fact that UKAD is severely underfunded. At the time of the oral evidence session, there was only one investigator employed who was covering 47 sports.162 Nicole Sapstead told us that, with a larger budget, UKAD would be in a position to test more comprehensively.163 She told us that, if intelligence is suggesting a particular doping issue within a sport, UKAD must channel its limited resources to that sport, and withdraw resources from other sports. As a result, some sports “will receive nominal amounts, maybe token amounts, maybe no testing whatsover at all in any financial year.”164” As a cycling fan I almost accept as a caveat that the result of every race I watch may later be changed - how sad is that? As a Sky TV customer, I’m furious that I’m funding this charade. I renegotiated my Sky package (TV and broadband, not a jiffy bag) and upgraded to Sky Q a couple of months ago but still this week received an email to say my subscription is going up. As both a customer and a fan I have the right to know the truth, to trust what I am watching and not to feel like I’m being hoodwinked at every turn.

Pete Farr

Get BT

Pete Farr

In fact get talk talk then you get sky sports as well

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Feel free to add your own thoughts and comments.

Anna Logue

I think it’s the testosterone patches that I’m most intrigued by, doctors will often be able to come up with their justifications as to why they haven’t gone for the first line treatments, ie. why he was given triamcinolone and not something else (whether rightly or wrongly), but there’s really no justifying ordering testosterone patches for someone who’s a professional athlete.