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Investigation: Bradley Wiggins won Tour de France using drug without medical need

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LONDON (AP) — Bradley Wiggins used a banned powerful corticosteroid to enhance his performance while preparing to win the Tour de France in 2012, a British parliamentary committee said in a doping investigation report that accuses Team Sky of crossing an “ethical line” after preaching zero tolerance.

The legislators said they received evidence that shows Team Sky sought a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) for Wiggins to take triamcinolone “not to treat medical need” — asthma — “but to improve his power to weight ratio.”

“We believe this powerful corticosteroid was being used to prepare Bradley Wiggins, and possibly other riders supporting him, for the (2012) Tour de France,” the House of Commons select committee said in the report published Monday. “He benefited from the performance-enhancing properties of this drug during the race.”

In a statement, Wiggins denied “any drug was used without medical need.” Team Sky defended its reputation in a statement criticizing “the anonymous and potentially malicious claim” by members of parliament.

But the report from a committee established in 2015 to investigate doping casts doubt on the team’s use of medication and failure to keep accurate medical records.

Team Sky general manager “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,” the report states.

The report also accused IAAF President Sebastian Coe of misleading the parliamentary inquiry into doping.

It was critical of Coe’s responses to questions regarding how much he knew about doping within track and field before the problems were revealed by investigative journalists and whistle-blowers.

The committee suggested Coe could have acted sooner to clean up the sport while he served as vice president of the international track and field federation until 2015, when he won an election to succeed Lamine Diack as president.

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TEAM ACCUSED

Brailsford, who directed Britain’s breakthrough success at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, established Team Sky in 2009 with the financial backing of satellite broadcaster Sky, whose largest shareholder is Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox. The stated mission was to cleanly produce Britain’s first Tour de France champion as cycling was trying to rebuild its reputation after years of scandals.

The publication of the parliamentary report comes with Team Sky’s four-time Tour de France champion, Chris Froome, under investigation by cycling’s world governing body for failing a doping test. Froome has been ordered to explain why a urine sample he provided at the Spanish Vuelta in September showed a concentration of the asthma drug salbutamol at twice the permitted level. Froome denies any wrongdoing.

Wiggins was Team Sky’s first Tour de France champion, emerging victorious in 2012 before cementing his status as Britain’s most decorated Olympian at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games by taking his haul to eight medals before retiring.

Tour de France organizers told The Associated Press on Sunday that they have no comment to make on the issue.

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MYSTERY PACKAGE

Investigations into Wiggins began later in 2016 following a leak to a newspaper about a medical package delivered to the rider at the 2011 Dauphine Libere race in France, a key pre-Tour event. The mystery deepened as Team Sky declined for two months to say what substance was in the bag dispatched from the shared British Cycling-Team Sky medical facility in Manchester.

There was no paper trail or written evidence to substantiate a claim by Brailsford that the product couriered was Fluimucil, a brand name for a legal decongestant containing acetylcysteine used for clearing mucus. The committee now says that Team Sky doctor Richard Freeman, who failed to log Wiggins’ use of an unlicensed product, can no longer confirm it was Fluimucil and he was “the only reported source of this information.”

The U.K. Anti-Doping Agency said in November that its investigation into whether the product was in fact the corticosteroid triamcinolone was hampered by a lack of accurate medical records but it decided not to issue charges. UKAD said it would re-open the investigation if new evidence emerged.

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CORTICOSTEROIDS … TO LEAN DOWN

The parliamentary committee said it received material from a “well-placed and respected source” about the use of triamcinolone, specifically that “Wiggins was using these drugs beyond the requirement for any TUE,” which allows athletes to use otherwise-banned substances because of a verified medical need.

Wiggins and a smaller group of riders trained away from the rest of Team Sky while preparing for the 2012 season, according to the legislators, who report: “The source said they were all using corticosteroids out of competition to lean down in preparation for the major races that season.”

The digital, culture, media and sports select committee said it was told in writing by Wiggins’ former coach, Shane Sutton, that “what Brad was doing was unethical but not against the rules” by taking triamcinolone.

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OPEN TO ABUSE

A leak by the Russian-linked hackers Fancy Bears in 2016 showed that Wiggins gained a therapeutic use exemption to have the anti-inflammatory drug triamcinolone injected on three specific occasions before the 2011 and 2012 Tours and the 2013 Giro D’Italia.

The British legislators found the TUE system was “open to abuse” by using products “to achieve a peak level of physical condition in the athlete, rather than returning them to a normal state of health.”

While Wiggins’ use of a TUE “does not constitute a violation of the WADA code,” the report said, “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.”

TUEs were granted up to 2014 based on the assessment by a doctor from both the team and the World Anti-Doping Agency. Now a TUE committee of independent medics gives approval.

“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 legislators wrote.

The committee called on WADA to introduce a complete ban on the use of corticosteroids and the painkiller Tramadol by athletes.

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DO IT CLEAN

Team Sky said it remained committed to allowing riders to “do it clean.” But the parliamentary report said claims by Team Sky coaches and managers that they were largely unaware of the medical methods “seem incredible, and inconsistent with their original aim of ‘winning clean,’ and maintaining the highest ethical standards.”

“How can David Brailsford ensure that his team is performing to his requirements, if he does not know and cannot tell what drugs the doctors are giving the riders?” the committee report added.

Wiggins has previously said he sought permission to use triamcinolone to treat his asthma to ensure he was “back on a level playing field” with competitors rather than to seek an unfair advantage.

Discussing the parliamentary report, Wiggins said on Monday: “I find it so sad that accusations can be made, where people can be accused of things they have never done which are then regarded as facts. I strongly refute the claim that any drug was used without medical need.”

Team Sky said it had already addressed the need to strengthen medical record keeping and denounced any suggestions they deceived the system as “unfair both to the team and to the riders.” The team denied a “serious claim that medication has been used by the team to enhance performance.”

“The report also includes an allegation of widespread Triamcinolone use by Team Sky riders ahead of the 2012 Tour de France,” the team statement said. “Again, we strongly refute this allegation.”

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BRITISH CYCLING FAILURES

British Cycling said the “failures” identified by the parliamentary report had already been addressed by an overhaul prompted by evidence heard in public hearings. The sport’s national governing body said there are now “clear boundaries and distinctions” between them and Team Sky, with no one simultaneously employed by both organizations.

Freeman, who held dual roles as doctor at Team Sky and British Cycling between 2009 and 2015, is being investigated by the General Medical Council, which is responsible for the behavior of medical practitioners.

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Amy Cragg to withdraw from U.S. Olympic marathon trials

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Defending champion Amy Cragg will miss the Feb. 29 U.S. Olympic marathon trials with an illness, according to her social media.

“The Trials are the reason I have shown up every day for the last four years, so this has been an extremely difficult decision,” was posted on her social media. Cragg later said she had Epstein-Barr virus, according to multiple reports.

Cragg, 36, was among the favorites to grab three Olympic spots at trials in Atlanta, despite not having competed over 26.2 miles since the February 2018 Tokyo Marathon.

She withdrew from the 2018 Chicago Marathon with a hamstring injury and also scratched a month before the 2019 Chicago Marathon, citing signs pointing to needing more time after the previous year’s injury.

Cragg, fourth at the 2012 Olympic trials, relegated Des Linden and Shalane Flanagan to second and third at the 2016 trials. Linden and Flanagan went on to win the Boston and New York City Marathons, respectively, ending long U.S. women’s victory droughts.

Cragg went on to finish ninth in Rio and earn a 2017 World bronze medal, the first world championships marathon podium finish for an American woman since the first worlds in 1983.

Cragg could still make the Tokyo Olympic team in the 10,000m if she races at track trials in June. She won the 2012 Olympic trials 10,000m but hasn’t raced the distance on the track since May 2017.

“Right now my only goal is to get healthy so that I can train at the level needed to be competitive,” Cragg said in an emailed message from her agent. “That being said, the reason I am still in this sport is because of the Olympic Trials and Olympics. It is what excites me more than anything, so it is something I would still love to do.”

With Cragg absent and Flanagan retired, Linden is the only woman in next week’s field with Olympic marathon experience.

Other favorites include Olympic 10,000m runner Molly Huddle, world championships 10,000m runner Emily Sisson and Jordan Hasay, the second-fastest U.S. female marathoner in history.

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Galen Rupp, after tumult, finds familiarity before Olympic marathon trials

Galen Rupp
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As Galen Rupp bids for a fourth Olympics, and perhaps become the first man or woman to win the Olympic marathon trials twice outright, he found some rare familiarity these days on the roads Feb. 8.

“Feeling like my old self again,” Rupp said Wednesday of winning a low-key half marathon in Mesa, Ariz., his first completed race in 16 months and since parting from now-banned, career-long coach Alberto Salazar. “It’s obviously been a long year and a half.”

Rupp clocked 61 minutes, 19 seconds on a downhill course. It’s faster than any half marathon by an American recorded by World Athletics since the start of 2019. Granted the downhill, but Rupp also said he was instructed by new coach Mike Smith to make it a controlled effort.

“He didn’t want me to run all-out, didn’t want me to really push and put myself in a big hole,” Rupp said, noting he was still in heavy training. “You don’t want to break that [training] up and put yourself in a deficit by having a massive effort.”

Mesa answered questions about Rupp’s readiness for the Olympic trials in Atlanta on Feb. 29 (NBC, 12-3 p.m. ET). Even to the two-time Olympic medalist himself. Rupp said he started the half marathon with a little bit of doubt — given recent left ankle and calf injuries — but felt early on that everything would be fine.

“It really put my mind at ease,” he said. “I’m going to be good for the marathon.”

His last two marathons did not go well.

At the 2018 Chicago Marathon, Rupp dropped from the leaders around mile 19 and finished fifth in a title defense. An Achilles injury flared up near the end. He underwent surgery later that month for two tears. Doctors said the ankle had been “a ticking time bomb.”

“They said I was really lucky to have as good of health as I had and manage it as I did,” Rupp said.

He went a full year before racing again, at the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 13, 12 days after Salazar’s ban was announced. Even that was a rushed comeback, Rupp said after dropping out around mile 23 with a calf injury.

“I’m not going to say it was a wake-up call,” Rupp said, “but I think I was a little bit stubborn before Chicago.”

Rupp said he ran through pain in training to get to the start line four months ago. He had trouble walking for several days after the abbreviated race and focused on physical therapy for about two months. He resumed normal, pain-free training in December.

By early January, Runner’s World reported that Oregon-based Rupp found a new Flagstaff-based coach in Smith, who leads a Northern Arizona University program that won the last three NCAA men’s cross-country titles.

“The biggest thing to me was Mike’s philosophy in coaching was very similar to the program that I was under for so many years,” said Rupp, who was for more than a decade part of the Nike Oregon Project, which was shut down last fall after Salazar’s ban for doping violations (which he appealed). Rupp wasn’t implicated by USADA and has a clean drug-testing record. “What I love most about it was Mike’s honesty and how forthright he was about everything. You could tell he wasn’t just saying what I wanted to hear or say, ‘We’re just going to do whatever you’ve been doing and try and replicate that.’ You’ve got to keep evolving and trying new things.”

Smith declined an interview request through NAU until after trials. He agreed to coach Rupp after about a month of communication and hard questions, according to Runner’s World.

“Because of its timing and the headlines I was reading like everyone else at the time, this was not a road I wanted to go down,” Smith said, according to the report. “To be honest, it was just easiest to turn it down. I’m actually — as crazy as this sounds — really proud I did not.

“What I found out by getting to know Galen was that there was much more going on than the picture portrayed of him, and I wish the world knew that. I have never seen someone more all-in in my life.”

Rupp, asked his toughest moment of the last two years, said he moves forward.

“Throughout any hardships and setbacks, I felt a lot of gratitude that I had as good of a run as I did with my health and everything going well for as long as I did,” he said. “It can be easy to get angry and get down, like why me, but I do believe that things always work out. There’s a reason behind all this stuff.”

Which brings Rupp to Atlanta next week for the first time in his life, aside from airport layovers. The race is unlike any other he has contested. The course is unusually hilly. The format — Americans only, top three make the Olympic team — makes for different tactics than the World Marathon Majors that Rupp is used to.

In 2016, Rupp entered as a favorite but without any marathon experience. He won convincingly, pulling away from now-retired Meb Keflezighi by 68 seconds.

The field is deeper this year. Seven Americans broke 2:11 in 2019. Only one did in 2015. But Rupp, at his best, is in his own class.

His personal best 2:06:07, from his last healthy marathon in 2018, is 1:49 faster than the second-fastest in the trials field in this Olympic cycle (Leonard Korir). The next-fastest, Scott Fauble, is more than three minutes behind by personal bests.

“I can confidently go in and say that I’ve put in the work for this, just like I know that I put in the work in 2016,” Rupp said. “Of course, you want to go in and have good races, feeling confident and being on a roll like I was several years ago. But I think that’s why that race in Mesa was so important to show, more to myself, that hey, you’re ready to go. You can still run well. You haven’t lost everything. Surgery didn’t wipe you out.”

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