Russian Hack Leads to Questions For Wiggins and Froome

Russian ‘cyber-espionage’ website Fancy Bears has released documents detailing medical data and therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) for a number of athletes as a result of a hack on the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) database.

On Tuesday 13th September 2016, the Russian group released data attributed to tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams, and the US gymnast Simone Biles, amongst claims that they had ‘sensational proof’ of athletes participating in doping practices.

The following day, details of therapeutic use exemptions obtained by Sir Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome were released, alongside medical reports on numerous international athletes.

Froome’s data showed TUEs from 2013 and ’14, confirming statements made previously by the three-time Tour de France winner to the Scotsman newspaper, in which he explained that he had used TUEs twice in his career, providing dates which correspond to the leaked Wada data.  Froome was shown to have been prescribed prednisolone, used to treat autoimmune and inflammatory conditions, during the 2013 Critérium du Dauphiné.  The second TUE, which was widely reported, dates from April 2014, when Froome was competing at the Tour of Romandie.  When questioned about the leak, Froome explained that he had ‘no issues’ given his previous transparency on the matter.

“I’ve openly discussed my TUEs with the media and have no issues with the leak, which confirms my statements”.  Froome went on to explain that he had twice used TUEs in his 9-year career, the last being in 2014.

The release of Sir Bradley Wiggins’ data caused more of a stir, with the cyclist forced to release two statements to clarify what he’d written in his autobiography regarding the use of needles.  Information published in the leak showed that Wiggins was permitted to use injectable Triamcinolone Acetonide to treat a pollen allergy, which appeared to contradict comments in his 2012 autobiography, ‘My Time’, in which Wiggins claimed to have never received injections in relation to his cycling career.  In a statement released on behalf of the Tour de France winner on Saturday, it was claimed that Wiggins “stands by his comment concerning the use of illegal intravenous needle injections”.  The spokesman went on to explain that the comments in the book were made in relation to the “historic and illegal practice of intravenous injections of performance enhancing substances, which was the subject of a law change by the UCI in 2011.  The triamcinolone injection that is referred to in the Wada leaks is an intramuscular treatment for asthma and is fully approved by the sports’ governing body”.

Triamcinolone is a controversial substance owing to the fact that Lance Armstrong tested positive for the drug at the 1999 Tour de France.  It was subsequently revealed that Armstrong had used a back-dated medical certificate for saddle sore cream in order to claim a TUE after his team were informed of the positive test.  Wiggins was prescribed the medication as a result of his asthma and pollen allergy, however the substance is included on the Wada prohibited list due to its action as a corticosteroid.  Corticosteroids are open to abuse due to their ability to improve recovery by reducing inflammation, and some are questioning the timing of Wiggins’ TUEs for this particular medication – right before the 2011 and 2012 Tour de France (he won the latter), and once prior to the 2013 Giro d’Italia.

Wiggins also faces questions over Team Sky’s 2011-2012 involvement with Geert Leinders, a disgraced cycle doctor banned for life after he was found to have committed serious anti-doping violations whilst working for the Rabobank Team.  Wiggins has made it clear that Leinders was not involved with issuing his TUEs, which were verified independently to Wada, UCI and British Cycling guidelines.

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