With controversy continuing to build around Team Sky, British Cycling and Bradley Wiggins' controversial application of Therapeutic Use Exemptions, it was no surprise that the issue arose Friday with members of the British team at the World Championships in Doha, Qatar.
In a round of questions from the gathered media, Geraint Thomas, Luke Rowe and performance director Rod Ellingworth all backed Wiggins to different degrees, with Thomas admitting he knew nothing about his former teammates' use of TUEs for injections of a strong corticosteroid drug that is normally banned in competition. Wiggins obtained permission to have injections of triamcinolone ahead of the 2011 Tour de France, the 2012 Tour de France – which he won – and the 2013 Giro d'Italia.
No anti-doping rules were broken because the UCI approved the TUEs, but the issue has generated ample discussion around the ethics of TUE use.
Asked if he was comfortable with Wiggins' TUEs given what he knows now, Thomas said in Wiggins' specific case it was "hard to say."
"I don't know how much he was suffering and how much that drug helped him," Thomas said. “But as I've seen a lot of other people say, the main thing is the whole issue of TUEs in general, how they are used and given out.
"I would be quite happy to ban them completely in sport," Thomas said. "I think sport is about pushing yourself and your body to the limits. If you have a sore knee or asthma or something, that is just part of it. It is a bit of a dodgy area, though, isn't it?"
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Rowe, Thomas' teammate on both Team Sky and the British squad in Qatar, said he didn't see any problem with either Wiggins' TUEs or the current system in general.
"Personally, as far as I'm concerned, he's got a genuine asthma problem," Rowe said. "He's had it his whole career. If there's something that can prevent it, and it's legal, and it's being accepted by the highest authorities, I don't see any problem in that.
"Everything was above board," Rowe said. "Everything went through the process you have to go through. Nothing was done behind closed doors. There's a process you have to follow; the team and Brad followed that process. It's not like anyone's tested positive. If I went and got the same thing, I'd be bending the rules because I don't need it. If Brad needed it and got it, that's fine."
Ellingworth also said he was comfortable with Wiggins' TUEs because everything was above board and within the system.
"It's within regulations, WADA's passed it, UCI's passed it, I'm comfortable with it," Ellingworth said.
"Everyone has their own opinion, it depends how it's spun," he said. "I'm OK with it. As a team we haven't broken any rules."
Thomas was the most forthcoming of the riders who spoke about the situation, saying that at the time nothing stood out within the team or with Wiggins.
"But you know, people's medical issues… you don't pry into that sort of stuff anyway," he said. "It's up to the athlete if he wants to share that sort of stuff. And it's hard like when somebody has asthma and it knocked 6 per cent off their performance. How can you gauge that? You take something for it and it adds 10 per cent. How do you know that?
"I don't know," Thomas continued. "It's a tough one. I think it would be unfair for me to speculate on that. I've just got to take what Brad says and make my own mind up and everyone can make theirs up."
Damage to Team Sky's reputation
When Team Sky burst onto the scene in 2010, it promised to do things differently, and most importantly, in a clean way. The team would not work with doctors previously associated with cycling's dodgy past, and the thin blue line that adorns Sky's racing kit was used as an analogy, in which they emphasised that going outside or over the lines would not happen on this team.
Thomas said the team's very public anti-doping proclamations set Team Sky up for increased scrutiny and speculation, adding that he was frustrated that he and his teammates are "definitely going to pay for" the recent revelations next year.
"For sure you have just created a load of enemies straight away being so loud about it," Thomas said. "Ever since day one, people have been digging and prying and just searching for something. It makes you angry at times when you look at other teams – I won't mention any – but if any of them got the scrutiny we got.
"But I guess that's the way it is," Thomas continued. "As Steve Peters always said, life's not fair. You've just got to crack on. As long as you are comfortable with yourself, and how your life is and your morals, that's all you can do isn't it? It's just crazy to see, yeah, just some of the things people are saying. Looking for things which as far as I'm concerned aren't even there."
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