Further TUEs Leaked as Wiggins Forced To Appear on TV to Explain His Actions

As the hackers known as Fancy Bears revealed medical information attributed to Olympic gold medallist Fabian Cancellara and Tour of Britain winner Steve Cummings on Friday afternoon, Bradley Wiggins found himself still embroiled in a heated debate about his own use of TUEs. As we reported last week, both former Sky rider Wiggins and current Sky superstar Chris Froome were subject to detailed scrutiny in the media and online following the release of documents obtained by a hack on a World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) database, showing that both Tour de France winners had taken banned substances with a therapeutic use exemption or TUE, the method by which professional athletes are permitted to use such medications to treat ongoing conditions such as asthma.

Chris Froome had previously spoken about his use of TUEs when his 2014 prescription for prednisolone was revealed. Earlier this year, the three time TdF winner had spoken to The Scotsman newspaper about using TUEs, which he confirmed he had done twice in his career, once in May 2013 for 5 days at the Critérium du Dauphiné, and again for 7 days during the Tour of Romandy in 2014. Both TUEs were UCI approved as part of the treatment for Froome’s asthma.  Addressing the recent WADA hack, Froome shrugged off any controversy.  “I’ve openly discussed my TUEs with the media and have no issues with the leak, which confirms my statements”.

Wiggins however was not so lucky.  The controversy surrounding his TUEs centred around claims made in his 2012 autobiography ‘My Time’, in which Sir Bradley wrote that he had never received any injections in relation to his cycling career.  The leaked WADA information appeared to tell a different tale, showing that, alongside a host of TUEs for asthma medication such as salbutamol and formoterol, Wiggins had been granted TUEs for injectable Triamcinolone Acetonide, used to treat a pollen allergy.  A statement was hurried out on behalf of the former Sky man, claiming that the rider had been referring in his autobiography to the use of “illegal intravenous injections”, not approved intramuscular injections such as triamcinolone. This statement did nothing to quell the furore. Some felt uneasy that Wiggins had not made any direct comment, choosing instead to communicate through his press team. Others felt that, by drawing attention to the difference between intravenous and intramuscular treatments, the statement was addressing the public as if they were fools, and was also starting to appear as a case of ‘one doth protest too much’.

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Photo: Wiggins on Stage 7b of the 2016 Tour of Britain.

Questions were also asked over Team Sky’s relationship with disgraced doping doctor Geert Leinders, who was hired by the team during the 2011 and 2012 seasons, when Wiggins was approaching the pinnacle of his road career. Leinders was banned from working in sport for life after he was found to have committed serious anti-doping violations when working for the Rabobank team. Whilst there have never been any allegations of doping stemming from the doctor’s time at Team Sky, a USADA report compiled as a result of the 2012 investigation into Lance Armstong claims that Leinders administered, possessed and trafficked a host of banned substances including EPO, testosterone and corticosteroids  for Rabobank riders during his tenure as the team. Leinders was also accused of administering blood transfusions to Rabobank team members.

Forced to address his relationship with the Belgian doctor, a spokesman for Bradley Wiggins explained “Brad has no direct link to Geert Leinders. Leinders was ‘on race’ doctor for Team Sky for a short period and so was occasionally present at races dealing with injuries sustained whilst racing, such as colds and bruises. Leinders had no part in Brad’s TUE application”.

Again, the statement did nothing to quell the rising tide of voices questioning Bradley Wiggins.  Four years on from the outcome of the Lance Armstrong investigation, fans are wary of being taken for fools yet again. Releasing statements through spokespeople instead of directly addressing the matter as Froome chose to do, has prolonged the sense of unease. By refusing to answer questions about his conduct in person, many have decided that Wiggins must have something to hide.

In the face of the ongoing storm, Wiggins has been forced to try a different approach to cease the clamour, by appearing on national TV on Sunday morning as part of the Andrew Marr Show. Following yet another Olympic medal haul for Team GB in the velodrome at the Rio games, Wiggins should be on our screens celebrating the close of a fantastically successful career as one of Britain’s most decorated Olympic athletes. Instead he faces the long, drawn out hangover from the Armstrong era.

As the controversy rumbles on with no sign of slowing, former UK pro cyclist and anti-doping campaigner David Millar told The Daily Telegraph that in-competition use of triamcinolone should be banned, and that there should be complete transparency surrounding the use of TUEs.  Millar, who himself was handed a suspension from the sport in 2004 for admitting to the use of performance enhancing drugs, claimed that triamcinolone, brand name Kenacort, was  incredibly powerful – even when compared with more well known performance enhancers such as EPO. “I took EPO and testosterone patches” explained Millar, “and they obviously produce huge differences in your blood…you felt at your top level. Kenacort though, was the only one you took and three days later you looked different. It’s scary because it’s catabolic so it’s eating into you. It felt destructive. It felt powerful….if it’s that strong, we shouldn’t be allowed to take it unless there is a serious issue. And if we’re suffering from that serious an issue, we shouldn’t be racing”. Millar went on to say that he couldn’t “fathom” why doctors would be prescribing such a powerful drug before races. “We shouldn’t have to face this”.

Sir Bradley may well be thinking “we shouldn’t have to face this” each time another armchair detective on Twitter claims to have known all along that there was something afoot at Team Sky. Whilst the UCI condones the use of TUEs, many so-called cycling fans are whipping themselves up into a frenzy over the WADA leaks, forgetting that Wiggins et al had explicit approval from cycling’s governing body to take the medication listed on their TUEs. Taking an approved drug to treat a recognized condition is not the same as systematic and sustained doping. Just like that colleague who is always ‘ill’ on a Friday, there are probably those who take advantage of the system, just as there will be those who follow the TUE procedure to the letter. The release of this information does not mean that any of the cyclists named by Fancy Bears have done anything wrong.

Establishing how to manage the TUE system so that it is fair to everyone should form part of the UCI’s approach to building  a successful anti-doping programme. Meanwhile, one of the UK’s previously best-loved sportsmen is caught in the cross-hairs, facing a fight for his reputation.

Cycle To Work Day

Today, Wednesday 14th September 2016, sees two important cycling events taking place in the shape of the Grande Prix de Wallonie and Cycle to Work Day!

Cycle to Work Day, billed as a ‘Celebration of Everyday Cycling’, encourages everyone to ‘take to two wheels and cycle to work for at least one day’.

The organisation aims to get one million people commuting to work on two wheels by the time the next census is due in 2021.  Data from the previous census, undertaken in 2011, shows 741,000 people regularly cycling to work.  The team behind Cycle to Work Day hope to build upon this number for future years.

Find out more at www.cycletoworkday.org, where you can also make a pledge and enter a draw to win some pretty nifty gear!

UCI calls indefinite halt to use of disc brakes in the pro peloton

On Friday, the UCI announced the indefinite suspension of the trial of disc brakes in road races, at the request of the Association Internationale des Groupes Cyclistes Professionnels.  The trial, started last year, saw pro teams permitted to race with disc brakes from the beginning of the 2016 season.  Despite the trial, the UCI swiftly stepped in to cease their usage in April, after Movistar rider Fran Ventoso suffered a severe laceration to the lower left leg during the infamous Spring Classic, Paris-Roubaix.

Two teams had chosen to ride with disc brakes during the race known as ‘The Hell of the North’ due to the gruelling cobbled sections which require a rider to exhibit expert bike handling at race pace, often in the muddy, cold, unfavourable conditions of early spring.  Ventoso’s accident did not occur as the result of a fall, rather after a brief touch of his leg against the back of the bike in front.

“I keep riding” Ventoso wrote after the incident in an open letter posted on his Facebook page.  “Shortly afterwards, I have a glance at that leg: it doesn’t hurt, there’s not a lot of blood covering it, but I can clearly see part of the periosteum, the membrane that covers my tibia…” In shock at the sight of his injury, Ventoso pulled to the side of the road and was escorted into an ambulance.

“15k after my incident, Nikolas Maes, a rider from Etixx-Quickstep comes into the very same ambulance…there’s a deep wound in his knee, produced by another disc…”

Ventoso underwent surgery to repair the wound, and called for disc brakes to be banned from professional races.  “Disc brakes should NEVER have arrived in the peloton…what will happen when 396 discs get into a race where 198 riders ferociously battle for position?  Can you imagine that disc cutting a jugular or femoral artery?”

Although two Paris-Roubaix teams, including Lampre-Merida, expressed doubts that the injury to Nikolas Maes was caused by a disc brake, Ventoso had the support of his Movistar team mate Alex Dowsett, who tweeted about the chaos of crashes, suggesting that injuries sustained by the sharp edges of disc brakes were not impossible to envisage.  Team Sky’s Ian Stannard also expressed concern, noting that he had previously welcomed the use of the new braking technology.  “They’ve proved quite dangerous.  Pro cycling is dangerous enough as it is…we don’t need guys falling on discs”.

The UCI introduced the ban immediately after the incident at Paris-Roubaix, with the French and Spanish Federations going so far as to outlaw their use in sportives – although domestic racers in the US are still permitted to ride bikes fitted with the technology.  British Cycling allows the use of disc brakes for cyclocross and mountain biking events, but not on the road.  Bike manufacturers will no doubt be keen to find a resolution to the matter, having poured resources and funding into their design and use.  The UCI statement hinted at an indefinite ban and delay on re-testing, stating “we are continuing to evaluate the situation, and the test will not restart unless we and those representative groups believe it should”.

WorldTour Woes

After five stage wins in this year’s Tour de France and a place on the top step of the podium with Steve Cummings in the Tour of Britain, cycling fans have grown used to seeing Team Dimension Data accomplish epic feats in the saddle throughout 2016.  The South African team; home to Mark Cavendish, lead-out specialist Mark Renshaw, and the aforementioned British ace Steve Cummings, have become fan favourites with their top level riders and charitable ethos – riding for Qhubeka, World Bicycle Relief’s South African programme, and promoting the Bicycles Change Lives hashtag.  Yet the team’s WorldTour licence is under serious threat as a result of a feud between the sport’s governing body the UCI and the company behind races such as the Tour de France and Paris-Nice, ASO.

ASO announced last year that it would pull all its races from the UCI WorldTour in 2017, as the long running battle between both organisations rumbled ever onward.  Removing the Tour de France from the UCI WorldTour classification would mean the event would go ahead as part of Europe Tour, classified as an Hors Classe (HC) event.  HC races cannot include a field of over 70% WorldTour teams, which, in a 22 team Tour de France, would mean only 15 WorldTour teams could enter.  The remaining teams would be invited by ASO from the Pro Continental classification.

The 2016 Tour de France saw 18 WorldTour teams secure automatic entry into the race.  Reclassifying the world’s most prestigious bike race as an HC event would mean that at least 3 top class teams would be unable to secure a Tour slot, potentially putting sponsorship in jeopardy.  In response to ongoing problems, the number of UCI WorldTour licences are being cut from 18 to 17 for the 2017 season, which is the cause of Team Dimension Data’s woes.

Currently, the South Africa based team lies in 18th place in the team rankings, despite a successful 2016 season for its WorldTour debut.  The team ranking positions are determined by adding up the total points of the top five riders within the team, taking the points from the WorldTour individual ranking system. Despite a successful season clocking up over 28 victories, only 9 of these will currently count towards the rankings, as the majority of wins came from races which are not part of the WorldTour series – including Steve Cummings’ yellow jersey at the Tour of Britain.

The five stage wins that Dimension Data clocked up at this year’s Tour de France, arguably putting the team second behind only Team Sky in terms of Tour performance, did not add enough points to the overall total, due to the somewhat bizarre system of allocation.  A top ten finish in the GC at the TdF can see a rider awarded 50 points, whereas a stage win will only rack up 20.

Despite Tinkoff and IAM Cycling departing the scene at the close of the 2016 season, two Pro Continental teams are likely to be moving up to take up the vacant spots in the WorldTour grouping.  Bora-Hansgrohe – star signing for 2017 Peter Sagan – will benefit from said rider’s lead in the individual WorldTour rankings.  The other team looking for a WorldTour spot are the Bahrain Cycling Team, who have managed to secure Vincenzo Nibali for the forthcoming season.  This leaves Dimension Data and Lampre scrapping it out for the 17th place as the racing season draws to a close.

It seems a shame that both ASO and the UCI can’t come to an agreement which will benefit the sport – with sponsors less likely to lend financial support to teams that might not make WorldTour races, riders will feel less secure about their futures.  Considering the huge successes that Team Dimension Data have seen throughout 2016, it is hard not to feel aghast at the suggestion that their one season as a WorldTour team will also be their last.  With a handful of WorldTour races yet to be run before the end of the year, and a few riders playing their cards close to their chest in terms of new signings, it’s far from a done deal.  Let’s hope for a last minute reprieve for Team Dimension Data’s sake, as well as for the good of cycling as a whole.