Michael Barry and Team Sky's 'unethical' use of legal medication

In an interview with the Telegraph, former Team Sky rider Michael Barry has alleged that he witnessed young riders ‘heavily’ using sleeping pills as well as the pain killer, Tramadol. The Canadian has also alleged that he urged Team Sky doctors to keep an inventory of legal drugs used at races, but that his request was not met.

Barry has previously said that Tramadol was 'readily' used by the British team, and while the management squad admitted in 2013 that the painkiller was prescribed, they have argued that it was used ‘minimally’. The management later called for a ban of the substance.

In the Telegraph interview Barry also stated that some riders used sleeping pills to cope with the rigours of professional cycling.

Neither Tramadol nor sleeping pills are banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency. However riders from other teams have admitted to regularly using sleeping pills, including David Millar, Thomas Dekker and Luca Paolini. Barry said that he brought his concerns about both sleeping pills and Tramadol to the management at the team and that their use was not ethical.

“The thing with doping is that there is a black and a white,” Barry told the Telegraph. "Did the team [Sky] cross into the black? No, in my opinion. They didn’t dope, but there is a grey area. The use of painkillers falls into that grey area. Tramadol falls into that grey area.

“I loved my time with the team, I had a great experience there. But, ethically, I really started questioning the use of the Tramadol, and the sleeping pills, especially when you see the younger riders using this stuff heavily. If we went into a medical clinic and just asked their GP, they probably wouldn’t give these out. And that is not ethical.”

The Canadian, who raced with Team Sky from 2010 until he was fired by the team in 2012 after he confessed to doping earlier in his career, admitted to racing on Tramadol in his book ‘Shadows on the Road’ and said that some riders used it every time they raced.

Recently, another former rider, Jonathan Tiernan-Locke claimed that Tramadol was freely handed out on the Great Britain team bus at the 2012 World Championships. That was also denied by the team, and riders Luke Rowe and Stephen Cummings, who rode at the 2012 Worlds, have both said it wasn’t the case.

Barry says that the recent scandal that has engulfed his former employer has highlighted a wider issue of seeking results over and above the health of riders.

“What this has highlighted is not just a ‘doping’ issue,” he told the Telegraph. “It is a health issue. Taking care of athletes should be a team’s priority. Instead everyone involved has a ‘bias’, from the mechanics to the team directeurs – everybody’s jobs are reliant on the athletes’ performances, so priorities are skewed, and people will do whatever they can to gain an edge, whether pharmaceutical or technological. But this wasn’t just a problem at Sky. It’s a problem for the sport in general.”

When contacted by Cyclingnews for comment, Team Sky said that medication was only used when deemed necessary by their doctors: “Any treatment would only ever be prescribed by medical staff if it was considered to be appropriate and justified. This includes the use of any non-prohibited medication.”

When asked about the meeting in which Barry alleges he asked the team doctors to keep detailed records of medicines used, a Team Sky spokesperson added: "We wouldn’t comment on any individual private conversations between riders and doctors, but we constantly refine and update our internal policies and protocols based on feedback from riders and staff right across the team." 

Wiggins and Fluimicil

For several months now, Team Sky and, in particular team manager Dave Brailsford, have been fending off questions regarding the use of medicines.

Wiggins is under scrutiny after Russian cyber-hacking group Fancy Bears leaked information from the World Anti-Doping Agency database, which showed that he had been granted TUEs to receive 40mg injections 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.

Brailsford was grilled by British MPs at a hearing of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee in late 2016, concerning the mysterious package that was delivered to Team Sky in 2011 for Wiggins. He suggested the jiffy bag contained the simple medicine Fluimucil, a mucolytic which helps to get rid of sticky and thick mucus that is obstructing the airway, resulting in coughing.

The Fluimicil package was transported by Simon Cope from the British Cycling headquarters in Manchester to France, where the team had been competing at the Criterium du Dauphine, in 2011 – when Barry was still riding for the team.

Barry was not at the French race and declined to comment on the specifics but said that it was not standard practice for medication to be transported across boarders in that manner. He also says that the team should have been more open about the use of the Fluimicil.

“They should have been clearer about it, so I’m not surprised by the scrutiny,” he said. “But the team is big. There is a lot of stuff going on, and I wasn’t at the race.

“The riders have personal relationships with the doctors and the management. I didn’t know what other guys were ingesting and what they weren’t, or what treatments they were getting. By that stage of my career, I had decided to race on my own terms.”

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