On Monday, a Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee (DMSC) report commissioned by the British House of Commons alleged that athletes on Team Sky used the powerful corticosteroid triamcinolone as a performance enhancer. The report, which also details past scandals at Team Sky, calls out the team and its general manager, David Brailsford, for “unprofessional and inexcusable” failures.
The accusations against Sky and British Cycling are part of a 52-page report, three years in the making, that delves into doping issues surrounding British cycling and athletics and places those issues in the larger context of world sport. The 14 pages devoted to cycling examine three main issues: the therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) for the asthma drug triamcinolone that were given to Bradley Wiggins leading up to the 2011 and 2012 Tours de France and the 2013 Giro d’Italia; the unknown substance and poor record keeping surrounding the “Jiffy bag” scandal at the 2011 Critérium du Dauphiné; and Team Sky’s use of the opioid painkiller tramadol. While the committee said it was unable to find evidence that Sky had broken the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) code, it concluded that many of the team’s actions “cross the ethical line that David Brailsford says he himself drew for Team Sky.”
While much of the report simply adds context and detail to these long-simmering scandals, there are damning new allegations that Sky used controlled substances not only out of medical necessity but also to enhance riders’ performance. “We believe that [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 report goes on to say that the use of triamcinolone ahead of the 2012 Tour benefited Wiggins’ performance during the race. Not only did Wiggins win, becoming the first Briton to ever capture the Tour de France title, but his teammate Chris Froome took second, underscoring the team’s emphatic domination.
Regarding Wiggins’ triamcinolone treatments, which were administered as a TUE within WADA rules, the committee concludes, “The TUE system needs to be kept under permanent review, but the question inevitably remains, that if an athlete is so ill that they can only compete using a drug that is otherwise banned during competition, then why are they competing at all?”
The report comes at a sensitive moment for Team Sky, which is still awaiting results from the UCI investigation into Chris Froome’s adverse analytical finding for salbutamol at the 2017 Vuelta a España. Just as Froome has denied any wrongdoing in that case, Sky now “strongly refutes” the claims in the DCMS report, and Bradley Wiggins, who sits at the center of many of the report’s findings, says he “100 percent” never cheated throughout his career.
Even with those denials, the report cuts into Team Sky’s already diminishing credibility and puts the beleaguered British outfit further on the defensive. The BBC called the report “a devastating blow to the reputations of the some of the biggest names in British sport,” and the Guardian wrote that the “[r]emarkable drugs report shatters Team Sky’s illusion of integrity.” There’s growing unease over the lack of resolution in the Froome inquiry, with Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme reiterating his demand for answers and calling the affair “completely grotesque.” The report also increases pressure for change at Team Sky. “David Brailsford must take responsibility for these failures, the regime under which Team Sky riders trained and competed and the damaging skepticism about the legitimacy of his team’s performance and accomplishments,” it concludes.
For now, at least, Team Sky has turned its back on the doping allegations and is concentrating on racing. Speaking from Tirreno-Adriatico, where his squad placed third in the opening-stage team time trial, Froome defended Brailsford and called the accusations in the report “complete rubbish.” With Froome’s salbutamol case still pending, however, it’s likely only a matter of time until the British outfit will be forced to confront the mounting suspicions against it.