Froome: Impossible to say if Wiggins operated in a grey area

'We're once again debating the validity of a Tour victory,' says Sky leader

Chris Froome has told Cyclingnews that it "is impossible to say if Bradley Wiggins was operating in a grey area" after the revelations surrounding Wiggins' use of the powerful corticosteroid triamcinolone acetonide before the 2011 and 2012 Tours de France, and the 2013 Giro d'Italia. Wiggins won the Tour in 2012, becoming the first British rider to do so. According to the rider, he was prescribed the substance to treat allergies, and the UCI signed off on his TUE requests. No rules were broken, but Team Sky and Wiggins have faced questions over why such a powerful drug was needed and the timing of the administration.

Answering questions via email, Froome told Cyclingnews that, 'Yes I was surprised, it was the first that I had heard of them. Without knowing the exact details of his medical condition, it's impossible to say if he was operating in a grey area.

"I had seen Bradley Wiggins using his inhalers so I knew he had asthma, but I wasn't aware of his allergies."

Froome finished second to Wiggins in the 2012 Tour de France and was arguably capable of challenging for the race after he dropped Wiggins in the mountains before being called back by the Team Sky management. Wiggins has argued that his use of triamcinolone was just 'levelling the playing field'. When asked if Wiggins had an unfair of advantage by using the drug, Froome replied: "Again, without having all the information it's difficult to say."

"It's a great shame for the sport that we're once again debating the validity of a Tour de France victory, and it has been a very challenging time for those involved. Like many other members of the team, I look forward to the conclusion of the investigation that is currently taking place and getting back to focusing on the season ahead."

The Fancy Bears leaks also published Froome's own TUE use. The three-time Tour winner was given a TUE in 2014 and faced criticism over the timing with the application coming just before the Tour of Romandie – a race he would go on to dominate and eventually win. Some quarters suggested that riders too ill to race and in need of a TUE should therefore not race until completely healthy.

Cyclingnews asked Froome, why in his eyes there were differences between his use of a TUE in 2014 and Wiggins' three applications.

"In 2014, I had an asthma exacerbation following the prologue at the Tour de Romandie. I had serious trouble breathing, which was visible to everyone, including journalists who tried to interview me after the stage. The team applied for an emergency TUE for a short course of prednisolone. This is the standard treatment for post-infection inflammation in asthmatics that cannot be controlled by standard inhalers. I don't believe that there are any alternative treatments, and performance enhancement is negligible," he said. 

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"With regards to Wiggins' TUE's, questions remain over his symptoms, the choice of treatment and the related performance benefits from that treatment."

In light of the revelations, Froome added, however, that the rules surrounding TUEs needed to be tightened and urged WADA and the UCI to work together over the matter. When asked if Team Sky should join the MPCC, he wrote that it would not solve the wider issue of equality.

"I believe there are a number of areas that need to be looked at. Potentially, having UCI/WADA specialist doctors examining athletes before TUE's are granted, and having standardised medications for specific conditions.

"TUE's have their place in sport where there is a genuine medical need for it. I don't think athletes should be denied the right to use appropriate medication relating to their condition. With stricter checks and regulations in place, hopefully, TUE's won't be regarded in the same way they seem to be currently.

"I don't believe that Team Sky joining the MPCC will solve the problems in our sport. Only a third of the WorldTour teams are currently members of the MPCC, and when rules are broken the teams simply leave without any repercussions. It is up to the UCI to address the issues around cortisone and other abuses, and implement stricter rules for everyone."

Much of the attention in recent weeks has fallen on Team Sky and their manager, Dave Brailsford. He remained silent after the news of Wiggins' TUEs broke but came under fire when it was revealed that Team Sky used British Cycling staff to transport undisclosed medical products to the Team Sky bus at the 2011 Criterium du Dauphine. UKAD have since launched an investigation in the matter, but Brailsford has refused to clarify what was in the package. Brailsford has admitted to making mistakes in the handling of the story, and commentators have asked whether he should remain in his position. When asked if he had faith in his current manager, Froome stated:

"The team has continually evolved since its inception in 2010, and year on year we continue to improve and strive to be better than we were the year before. Mistakes have been made along the way, but Dave B has created something incredibly special. I'm grateful to be in the position that I am, surrounded by an amazing team on and off the bike, with the best support structure in the pro peloton. I don't believe there are many people who could achieve what Dave B has in this sport in such a short period of time."

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