One of Bradley Wiggins’ former team doctors has told Cyclingnews that he is sceptical over Team Sky’s and British Cycling’s assertion that a medical package transported to the Dauphine in 2011 and administered to Bradley Wiggins at the race contained the legal decongestant Fluimucil.
Both British Cycling and Team Sky have appeared in front of the Department of Culture Media and Sport’s (DCMS) anti-doping committee and stated that the medical package contained nothing more than the over-the-counter product. However, neither organisation, nor the doctor at the centre of the story, Richard Freeman, have yet produced evidence to back up their claim.
UK-Anti-Doping have launched an investigation into a potential anti-doping violation and at a hearing organised by the DCMS committee it was announced that Freeman had failed to keep any medical records relating to Wiggins. Freeman had been called to appear before the committee earlier this week but with 24-hours notice pulled out, citing health issues. UKAD Chief Executive Nicole Sapstead stated that the doctor had reported his work laptop stolen in 2014. The computer held Freeman’s medical notes.
Prentice Steffen, who works at the Cannondale-Drapac Pro Cycling Team, was Wiggins’ doctor during the 2009 race season. In December - after Team Sky’s Dave Brailsford had told the select committee that Fluimucil had been administered – Steffen told Cyclingnews that the story reminded him of the Lance Armstrong era in Cycling.
On Thursday the American physician continued to remain unimpressed.
“I think that it continues to look bad. It continues to be curious at best that they can’t come up with better answers by now,” he told Cyclingnews. “The whole thing has dragged out way too long with it taking so long for someone to say that the package was Fluimucil. It’s dragged on with a lack of clarity over what transpired with no records. It’s super unfortunate for them and for cycling in general. I’m sceptical. It doesn’t really add up."
At Wednesday’s hearing, UKAD painted a bleak picture of how British Cycling and Team Sky failed to keep sufficient medical records. Their investigation uncovered that Freeman was ‘wearing two hats’ as he worked between both the national federation and the WorldTour team. At British Cycling’s base in Manchester, no audit or paper trail existed with regards to the use or transportation of medical products, and the British Cycling physio who put Wiggins’ medical package together in 2011 could not remember its content.
Steffen told Cyclingnews that at Cannondale Steffen and his colleagues keep medical records for all of their riders, and as with Team Sky, they use a Dropbox system to update medical histories. Sapstead stated that Team Sky’s protocol was similar but that Freeman failed to follow the pattern set by the rest of the Team Sky medical staff.
“We keep a file on each rider, and any time there’s any activity involving a rider we make an entry into their file and it becomes a long stream of entries,” Steffen said in relation to Cannondale’s practice.
“So before a race I would go through the records of each rider and read the last several months of entries. We would very strictly record any prescription medication that was given and the dose.”
Steffen added that while the team would keep ‘looser’ records for lesser substances, they would still be documented.
“For over-the-counter medication, we’d make a looser entry for things like Fluimucil and write something like, rider X has a respiratory infection and we’re giving him Fluimucil, Paracetamol, throat lozenges and we might not record the dose as they’re substances that the rider’s mother could get for them.”
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Steffen then provided background into how team doctors used the shared online file systems, such as Dropbox, to log data. According to UKAD, Freeman failed to keep medical records, but Steffen suggested that if the laptop was stolen in 2014, there should still be records leading up to that point – if Freeman backed up or uploaded data at all.
"We use Dropbox and everyone has a word document that grows as entries are made," Steffen said. "It’s accessible by the medical staff and we have medical privacy so only the four or five doctors have access. I don’t know what Sky does exactly, but I do know that if we faced this situation it would be a matter of pulling the file and releasing it five minutes later, if we had nothing to hide. That’s where it starts to look like Team Sky has something to hide. And when I say something to hide it could be something like poor organisation. If it was that then it could be easily explained.
“To say your computer was never backed up from 2011 to 2014 and you didn’t update the records… it gets to the point where it’s either incompetence or something to hide that needs to be hidden because it’s not correct."
Steffen added that although he had his doubts with regards to the Fluimucil story, he had a sense of empathy for Freeman and the position the doctor now finds himself in.
"As a colleague in the world of medicine, I feel badly for him. I believe he’s in an unfortunate spot," Steffen said. "How much of it is of his making, I have no idea. The right thing to do, or have done, is to be more transparent about what played out. I don’t know where his loyalties lie, but he could have been more forthcoming along the way. This has been drawn out for so long, and in such a confused way.”
General Medical Council
The select committee has already confirmed that they will send written questions to Freeman, and the possibility of him being called back to appear in front of parliament remains. That might not be the end of this matter for the doctor, however, with the General Medical Council also considering whether they will question him.
According to their own guidelines, doctors "must keep records that contain personal information about patients, colleagues or others securely, and in line with any data protection requirements." Keeping records on a single laptop that could be stolen may qualify as a breach of guidelines.
Cyclingnews contacted the GMC. They would not talk about individuals involved in an ongoing UKAD case, but stated that, "We are aware of the issues raised. However, we are not able to confirm whether a doctor is under investigation unless they have been Interim Suspended or have Interim Conditions following a hearing of the Interim Orders Tribunal (IOT) at the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) in Manchester."
Since Wednesday’s hearing, Team Sky have released a statement.
"Team Sky has co-operated fully with UKAD’s investigation, and we will continue to do so," the statement read. "As we have said throughout, we are confident there has been no wrongdoing.
"Our commitment to anti-doping has been one of the founding principles of the team from the very start. Team Sky is a clean team. We abide by the rules and we are proud of our stance against doping. Any medical treatment, whatever its status, would only ever be given to a Team Sky rider if it was considered to be medically appropriate and justified.
"We have worked hard to put the right governance structures in place, and we believe that our approach to anti-doping is rigorous and comprehensive. We continuously look to strengthen our own processes and systems, which have evolved since our formation."
The Chairman of Team Sky board, Graham McWilliam, has remained silent. In October he Tweeted his support for Team Sky staff, calling the story "noise" and asking staff to "keep their feet on the ground" and adding that "I can assure you of Sky’s full and continued support".
In December, after the first select committee hearing, Cyclingnews attempted to contact McWilliam, directly and then via Team Sky, with several questions. Cyclingnews asked if the team still have the full backing of Sky as a sponsor and does Dave Brailsford have the full backing of Sky?
A Team Sky spokesperson told Cyclingnews that McWilliam would not be commenting. After Wednesday’s second hearing, Cyclingnews reached out to McWilliam again and was given the same response from Team Sky.