Lizzie Deignan (née Armitstead) says that current therapeutic use exemption (TUE) system allows for an ethically grey area, and cycling's governing body, the UCI, must crack down on it. British Cycling and Team Sky have been under scrutiny in recent weeks following the leak, which, among other things, revealed Bradley Wiggins' TUE data.
The files, which were released by the Russian hackers Fancy Bears last month, showed that Wiggins had received injections of triamcinolone acetonide ahead of the 2011 and 2012 Tours de France, and the 2013 Giro d'Italia. While Wiggins has not broken any rules, the timing of them raised several questions. Deignan echoed the thoughts of Team Sky rider Nicolas Roche who told Cyclingnews last week that the system needed revision.
"I think that the UCI needs to sort that issue out. It’s a very blurred ethical line that needs the UCI to be much firmer [on]," Deignan told a small group of press at her team hotel in Doha, Qatar ahead of the UCI Road World Championships road race on Saturday.
Deignan herself felt the heat of public opinion after it was revealed she'd had a sanction overturned following three missed tests, allowing her to compete in the Olympic Games. The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) declared the first of those missed tests void, stating that the doping control officer from the UK Anti-Doping Agency [UKAD] had not done enough to locate her.
At the time, Wiggins said there was ‘no excuse’ for Deignan, but she said: "In my situation, I would take everything I read and see with a pinch of salt. I would sit down with that person and take the time to see their reasons.
"I'd love to have a conversation with everybody that doubts me, I'd love to pick up the phone and be able to explain the situation, and I think people would be much more compassionate. But I can't do that and that's something I have to come to terms with."
Coming to terms with doubt
The story of Deignan's missed tests dates back to August 20, 2015, while she was in Sweden for the Vargarda World Cup event. The second came a little over a month later, soon after she'd won her world title when a spot check found an error in her whereabouts data. The final one was in June of this year, which Deignan says was due to a family emergency, and she was handed a provisional suspension on July 11.
Deignan is still adamant that she was not at fault in the first instance, the one that was eventually declared void. "UKAD, I'm sure, will at some point, maybe, release a statement, which would be nice," she said.
Since the Olympics, where she finished fifth in the road race, Deignan has opted to stay out of the media limelight. Instead, she focused on her imminent wedding to Team Sky rider Philip Deignan and the team time trial world title with her Boels Dolmans team. She says that she hasn't had time to process it all and is still coming to terms with the fallout.
"I’d be lying if I said it was anything other than traumatic. It was a very difficult time for me and my family, and I don't really feel I've had time to stop and evaluate. I went straight from the Olympics straight into racing. The time for real reflection will come after these worlds," said Deignan.
In hindsight, Deignan does admit that she wished she had handled the situation differently, although she refused to elaborate further on the family issue that ended with third missed test.
"In that moment it's something I had never experienced before," she explained. "I never expected it would blow up on such a scale. I was taking advice from people who I thought were experts in how to handle it. And actually, the moment when I trusted my instincts and trusted my own words, made my own statement – I wrote that at 3 a.m. in my hotel bed prior to flying to Rio – that was the moment when I felt the most comfortable."
She also states that she needs to better control her life off the bike. "I need to have time to recover from things and maintain balance in my life. I can't burn the candle at both ends."
Deignan will compete in the road race this season as the leader of an eight-rider Great Britain squad. The flat, criterium-like circuit is not ideal for her, and she is more than likely going to hand her rainbow stripes to someone else for at least the next 12 months. Deignan says that despite the furore that surrounded her, she still wanted to race out the season.
"I'm here because I respect the jersey and I want to respect the next winner of the jersey. I mean, never say never. I'll have a number on my back. I'm a racer. It's about respecting cycling and respecting my job. This is my profession, and I respect my sponsors. I haven't done anything wrong so I was never going to walk away from this season."