Team Sky boss David Brailsford today hit back against growing speculation that he might be asked to step aside from his role as team principal, penning a letter to Damian Collins, the Chairman of Parliament's Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee, vigorously defending the team's record on anti-doping while at the same time admitting that mistakes were made.
In recent days, some members of the team have considered asking him to step aside, and former director Steven De Jongh, who was let go in 2012 under Team Sky's zero-tolerance policy, doubted that Brailsford could weather the storm.
However, Graham McWilliam, the chairman of Team Sky board, voiced support for Brailsford on Tuesday, writing on Twitter: "For record, TS [Team Sky] Board & Sky are 100% behind team and Sir Dave Brailsford as its leader. We look forward to many more years of success."
The issue surrounds a report first published by the Daily Mail that raised concerns over a package delivered to the 2011 Criterium du Dauphine for Bradley Wiggins at the behest of team doctor Richard Freeman. The report sparked a UK Anti-Doping investigation to determine if Team Sky violated anti-doping rules.
"UKAD’s investigation was precipitated by a very serious allegation of an anti-doping rule violation by Team Sky at the 2011 Dauphiné. It is important to reiterate that, to my understanding, UKAD’s extensive investigation has found nothing whatsoever to support this allegation, which we believe to be false," Brailsford wrote, but acknowledged that the lack of documentation to back up their assertions is due to procedural mistakes.
"Self-evidently, the events of recent months have highlighted areas where mistakes were made by Team Sky. Some members of staff did not comply fully with the policies and procedures that existed at that time. Regrettably, those mistakes mean that we have not been able to provide the complete set of records that we should have around the specific race relevant to UKAD’s investigation. We accept full responsibility for this."
Brailsford testified to Collins' committee in December that he believed the package delivered to the team for Wiggins in 2011 contained Fluimucil, a legal medication under the WADA code. But doubts quickly arose over the team's inability to document those claims, and questions surrounding why a common medication available in France would need to transported all the way from Manchester.
In an eight-page document titled "Team Sky - Points of clarification on UKAD investigation and evolution of anti-doping and medical practices", Team Sky explains that Fluimucil (N-acetyl cysteine) is commonly used in races where damp conditions or high altitude can cause mucus to clog up the lungs. It is most effective when administered by equalizer in a three millilitre dose of a 10 per cent concentration, a practice "completely in line with anti-doping rules".
That form of the medication was, according to Team Sky, not available for sale in France. Additionally, Dr Freeman did not have prescription rights for France.
Fluimucil is not licensed for sale in the United Kingdom, but the team says Dr Freeman typically ordered it from a pharmacy in Munich or Switzerland where he has prescription rights. The surplus Fluimucil was stored in Manchester - a statement which ostensibly explains the delivery.
The team, however, has no documents to support Fluimucil being the substance in the package that Simon Cope transported from Manchester to France because, according to the team, Dr Freeman had a practice of keeping medical records only locally on his laptop, which was stolen while he was on holiday.
'A fundamental difference between process failures and wrongdoing'
Brailsford insists that the lack of documentation to back up their claims that Wiggins was receiving Fluimucil was the result of failures in procedures, not deliberate wrongdoing.
"We remain confident that the allegation is false and that there has been no wrongdoing by Team Sky or its employees," Brailsford wrote.
"There is a fundamental difference between process failures and wrongdoing. Our commitment to anti-doping has been a core principle of Team Sky since its inception. Our mission is to race and win clean, and we have done so for 8 years."
Following in the footsteps of British Cycling, which outlined a laundry list of procedural improvements after UK Sport's inquiry into its high performance programme, Brailsford and Team Sky gave an extensive list of how the team's anti-doping procedures have evolved and improved since 2011, which was its second year in existence.
- Timeline of UKAD investigation into Team Sky and British Cycling
- Cope feels 'stitched up' over role in Team Sky mystery-package saga
- British Cycling admits failures in Wiggins medical delivery
- Collins: Team Sky and British Cycling 'left in terrible position'
- UKAD reveals Freeman received delivery of testosterone in 2011
- Brailsford: Freeman gave me an injection of triamcinolone
- Thomas supports Brailsford and complains of 'unfair' media coverage
In the associated document, Team Sky writes that, "While we accept that there are no medical records for this particular rider [Wiggins] at this particular race [the 2011 Dauphine], it is wrong to draw the conclusion that Team Sky has no medical records or that our medical team as a whole have been deficient in their record keeping. On the contrary, it is an area we take very seriously and have sought to strengthen and improve over time."
The team doctors were to use a shared Dropbox system to store medical information, but some of them, including Freeman, "struggled with the new system and preferred to use their own hard copy and/or electronic notes, sharing information by telephone
as appropriate", and held conference calls with head physician Dr Steve Peters every fortnight.
The team then goes on to correct some information regarding its orders of Triamcinolone, which UKAD stated was obtained in large quantities by the team. "It has been subsequently reported in the media that as many as 70 ampoules of triamcinolone were ordered by Team Sky in 2011 alone. This is incorrect. Our records indicate that 55 ampoules of triamcinolone were ordered by Team Sky over a 4-year period between 2010 and 2013. Only a small proportion of this was administered to Team Sky riders. According to Dr Freeman, the majority was used in his private practice and to treat Team Sky and British Cycling staff."
The document then details the team's medical procedures, which include an annual review of medical policies, standardisation of rider medical information and sharing, the addition of a full-time compliance officer in 2013 and a medical assistant for accurate note keeping, continuous learning for its doctors, special certifications for areas of interest and up to date GMC registration.
The team backs up its zero-tolerance policy, which instituted in 2012 after Lance Armstrong was banned for life by USADA, with rider background checks in addition to Athlete Biological Passport, rider education about maintaining whereabouts, and power monitoring on the riders to detect any sudden performance gains.
The team created an Anti-Doping Working Group in 2014 comprising senior management, performance and medical staff, half of which have taken UKAD's Accredited Advisor course.
Team Sky also instituted a Whistleblowing Policy in 2014, which allows for anonymous reporting, and protects whistleblowers from harassment or victimisation.
Brailsford plans to appoint a Medical Governance Officer "in the coming weeks" that will work independently and report directly to the Team Sky Board and advise team management and medical staff, and it will institute a new, secure electronic medicine management system, "which provides greater accountability and an audit trail from order to dispensing".