Nicole Cooke has told the UK Parliament that she is 'sceptical' of Team Sky and Bradley Wiggins' use of therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) and the mysterious jiffy bag that was sent to the 2011 Criterium du Dauphine.
Speaking in front of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee that is investigating doping in sport, Cooke, said that the timings of applications reminded her of how riders, in her experience, used to circumnavigate the anti-doping processes. Cooke also submitted detailed written evidence that made further accusations of sexism against British Cycling.
Wiggins applied for three TUEs for the substance triamcinolone acetonide (also known as kenacort or kenalog) between 2011 and 2013. The first two came just ahead of the Tour de France while the last was before the 2013 Giro d'Italia. Wiggins has said that the medication was to treat a serious allergy to pollen.
Following the 2011 Criterium du Dauphine, a medical package was sent to Team Sky doctor Richard Freeman for Wiggins. Dave Brailsford revealed to the committee last month that the package contained the decongestant Fluimicil. However no paper trail or confirmation that it as actually Fluimicil has so far emerged, as UK Anti-Doping investigate possible wrong doing.
"I think the chronological coincidence just before the major events based on patterns and ways that I've seen riders try to beat the system," Cooke told the committee by video link from Paris.
"It makes me sceptical but I don't have the medical knowledge to make an informed decision of the medical side of it. Based on my experience I am sceptical of what they've done."
Cooke also questioned the likelihood of coach Simon Cope being unaware of the contents of a package sent to Team Sky at the 2011 Criterium du Dauphine, and raised questioned about British Cycling's inability to find the documentation for it.
"I don't know exactly what went on. I do find it very surprising if Simon Cope was transporting something over international boarders that he didn't know what was in it. I find that astonishing," she said. "The fact that British Cycling, when asked for the records of something that they store in their building, they weren't able to supply the documentation of that."
She said that it is difficult for team principal Dave Brailsford to claim that the team is clean if he was unaware what was being administered to his riders. "I find the stance of being the cleanest team and yet the team principal Brailsford not knowing what the riders are being treated with. It definitely makes it hard to back up that claim when he obviously doesn't know what was going on until recently."
- Timeline of UKAD investigation into Team Sky and British Cycling
- Cope: I don't know what was in the package for Team Sky
- Brailsford says mysterious package contained legal drug Fluimucil
- Nicole Cooke questions why Simon Cope was acting as Sky courier
Cooke's four TUE
At the end of the session, Cooke made a point of highlighting her own use of TUEs, saying that she had applied for four during her 13-year career. Three of those, she said, where for to treat a knee injury. All of those required an injection of kenacort into the knee.
"I was aware that this was performance enhancing and I had a significant discussion about that with the medical team, the coaching team and myself before we agreed it should be administered. It was a case of injection or surgery," she said.
"The performance enhancing results were long gone seven months later when I did my last race. The steroid was identical to which Bradley Wiggins had an injection of shortly before his main goal of the season, when he was racing."
Cooke said that she had also received a TUE for asthma, which she said ran in her family.
The abuse of TUE
Cooke spent over an hour talking to the panel of MPs. She also supplied the committee with a 10-page document of written evidence. In that document, which was published online, Cooke highlighted the deregulation of some controlled substances outside of competition and the potential for abuse of TUE.
"My personal experience is that sometimes I attended anti-doping protocols with other competitors who took in files with many TUEs," it said. "Obviously I was not privy to their personal medical records and conditions but it appeared that it would not be lost on many of the unscrupulous that a TUE was a very convenient way to mask a doping program."
When pushed by MP Damian Collins, Cooke said that a TUE could potentially be used to disguise the use of a substance that would ordinarily be banned in competition and that more needed to be done to safeguard the TUE process.
"A TUE could be used as a protective measure to cover the 'glow time' of substances still in the athlete's body. When they stop the treatment the substance remains in the athlete’s body and a TUE could cover that," she said.
"I think there is the opportunity there to push boundaries and use TUEs under false circumstance. That is possible. Even though WADA have taken steps to tighten up the process, I think there could be more rigour there in the approving of TUEs. We've seen the gradual relaxing of the medication that requires a TUE and often numbers are quoted in a decline of the use of TUEs."
A reluctance to tackle doping
Cooke was heavily critical of various bodies, including British Cycling, UK Anti-Doping, WADA and the UCI for what she saw as a failure to act upon and investigate matters that she had brought to their attention. One matter in particular was an incident in her formative years as a professional where she was offered performance enhancing substances.
"In my first full season, 2002 I became fully aware that the use of PEDs was still endemic in the sport and the 'new clean era' post the Festina scandal of 1999 was a designed fiction," she wrote in her document. "At the age of 19 I was the only Brit on my team in Italy and I was encouraged by two members of the management of my team to dope."
One of those people was team boss William Dazzani, who was later arrested as the result of an Italian police investigation. Cooke was unaware of the investigation and brought her story to the anti-doping authorities in the UK, who – Cooke said – told her that there was nothing they could do. She also claims that they refused to hand over the information to the Italian authorities.
She also talked of her frustration in trying to get WADA to look into the case of a rider supposedly serving a two-year ban that was still competing and had recently won a Pan American title. She does not state the rider in question or the year that it took place but says she pursued the matter for two years with little success. The rider, who appears to be Colombian Maria Luisa Calle, later tested positive at the 2015 Pan American Games.