Wiggins Pulls Out of Upcoming Abu Dhabi Tour – Or Does He?

It appears that Bradley Wiggins has decided not to compete in the Abu Dhabi Tour, after claiming last month that it would be his last appearance in a road race. It’s not the first time that Wiggins has changed his mind in relation to his race calendar – fans of the Tour of Britain had watched this year’s edition believing it to be Sir Bradley’s final road race. The Tour de France winner then surprised the cycling world when he was announced as part of Team Wiggins for the Abu Dhabi Tour, which starts on 20th October.

The Abu Dhabi race organisers were understandably pleased that the Olympian would be attending the 4-day race, and on Wednesday (12th October) Wiggins was still listed as an attendee. Representatives of Sir Bradley had a different story by Thursday, stating that the rider “had never committed” to the race, and that the team list which had included his name was only provisional. It was stated that Bradley would not be in attendance as he didn’t want to ‘jeapordise’ his preparation for the London Six Day, a track event which begins the day after the Abu Dhabi Tour ends.

The organisers of the race in the Emirates released a statement on Thursday evening announcing that they were ‘surprised and disappointed to see different stories in the media regarding Bradley Wiggins and the Abu Dhabi Tour’. The statement goes on to say that, in common with all major races, ‘flights and accomodation have been booked in the name of Bradley Wiggins and those accompanying him’. Wiggins’ name had been included on the Official Enrolement Form, which was submitted last week.

Race organisers explained that ‘the long-standing expectation has been that Sir Bradley will be riding the Abu Dhabi Tour’, and that all preparations in the run up to the event ‘have been based on that expectation in good faith’.

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.

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.