Kanstantin Siutsou has said he "still cannot believe" that Bradley Wiggins used Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs) to take triamcinolone acetonide, but defends his former teammate, despite arguing that riders with conditions requiring medical authorisation for banned substances should compete in para-sport.
The Belarusian sat down with Cyclingnews at the Bahrain-Merida team’s introductory camp in Croatia last week. After talking about his motivation for moving teams and his goals for 2017, conversation turned to the recent controversy that has recently engulfed Wiggins and Team Sky.
Siutsou, 34, joined the British WorldTour squad in 2012 and spent four seasons there, joining Wiggins on the start line of the 2012 Tour de France and 2013 Giro d'Italia – two of the three races ahead of which the Briton used the ordinarily-banned corticosteroid.
"If I'm sick, ok, I can go to the Paralympics," Siutsou said bluntly, echoing comments made recently by Marcel Kittel. "You should go to the Paralympics. Sorry."
Siutsou seemed to turn his nose up at the TUE system, referring to the number of British and American athletes at the Rio Olympics who had used TUEs, as revealed in recent weeks by the Fancy Bears hacking team. However, he defended Wiggins, suggesting that the drug, which David Millar has described as the most potent he's ever used, wouldn't have had a significant impact on his performance.
"I know him, and I can say I still cannot believe it," he said. "I don't know if it really helped. I can understand if it's in the race, but he did it before the race. Maybe it can help you for a one-day race, but the Tour is a three-week race. He was probably sick, he was skinny, and your muscles and ligaments are already on the limit, your whole body is on the limit."
"Wiggins is a big rider, he has five gold medals and is an eight-time world champion," he added, referring to Fabian Cancellara as another rider who has had success from the start to the end of his career. "It's not just a rider who wins and you never see them again."
Though neither Wiggins nor Team Sky broke any anti-doping rules, the revelations raise questions over the exploitation of a so-called 'grey area' created by TUEs and Team Sky have had to defend their self-styled stance as a clean and transparent operation. As well as the TUE issue – with Chris Froome and Sergio Henao also having availed of them in the past – they faced criticism when Michael Barry claimed in 2014 that the potent but legal painkiller Tramadol was used by the team.
No TUE, no Tramadol
Siutsou insists he was unaware both of TUE applications and Tramadol offers during his time at Team Sky.
"In the race if you crash, for something painful you can put some cream on, like cortisol, and at the doping control you have to write it down. I know just about that. But to put a request to WADA, I don't know about that," he said.
"I can say that in four years in the team, no doctor said to you, 'you can take this'. I never heard that. If you ask him something, he can say 'what do you want? Why do you want it? What do you feel?' But if you don't say anything, they won't say 'do you want something'."
Siutsou also referred to the revelations made recently by his former Team Sky teammate Jonathan Tiernan-Locke, who has served a doping ban and claimed that Tramadol was handed 'freely' around the Great Britain team at the 2012 Road World Championships.
Tiernan-Locke made no reference to Team Sky in the allegations, even if he later named the team's doctor Richard Freeman, working for the GB team, as the one who was offering the drug. Freeman denies the allegation.
"He left the team because he had problems, and maybe he put this out because he was really angry," said Siutsou, echoing the 'bitter and twisted' comments made by Luke Rowe last month. "Maybe he asked, 'if you don't pay me money I'll put something shit in the media'."
Siutsou insists that cycling "for sure" is cleaner today than it was a decade ago when he started his career, and he points to the tighter gaps between the top 10 on the general classifications of Grand Tours as evidence. He did, however, suggest, that WADA's online Anti-Doping Administration and Management System (ADAMS) has added a layer of secrecy to the issue of medical treatment.
"I remember, we used to have these books," he said. "Everyone could see if you had asthma or anything – it was always written down. Every doctor had a book, and every time you gave blood, you put down notes down in the book and you can see everything in the book. If you have any prescription, it'd be put in the book, and the book is in the arms of each doctor. Now it's more in confidence. It's on ADAMS, where no one can see your profile."