UCI president Brian Cookson has spoken publicly for the first time on Bradley Wiggins' contentious use of the corticosteroid triamcinolone acetonide under a therapeutic use exemption, telling Cyclingnews that "no rules have been broken" and no action is likely to follow against the Briton.
Cookson was speaking ahead of the UCI Road World Championships in Doha on Saturday evening, more than three weeks after Russian cyber-hacking group Fancy Bears leaked information from the World Anti-Doping Agency database, which showed that Wiggins 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.
"We have no reason to believe any of those TUEs have been issued inappropriately. All of them have been entered on the ADAMS system so WADA have been able to review them at any time, as they can now," Cookson told Cyclingnews. "As far as I'm concerned, and unless I hear differently from WADA or the Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation, no rules have been broken and there's no reason to assume that any action will follow."
Wiggins and Sky have insisted that the injections were prescribed to treat asthma and pollen allergies, with team manager Dave Brailsford even claiming that he was unaware of the performance-enhancing properties of the corticosteroid.
Britain's NHS has counselled its doctors against administering triamcinolone acetonide injections to treat hay fever except as a last resort in recent years, however, while former riders including David Millar and Michael Rasmussen have described how they had used the substance as a doping product during their careers. Cookson, however, appeared satisfied that procedures had been followed and that the case did not constitute an abuse of the TUE system.
"It’s clear, as far as I can see, that no rules have been broken here. If the rules have been followed and applied, that’s the end of the matter, in effect," Cookson said. "If we’re going to have a debate about whether we should have different rules, then that’s a valid debate and maybe that’s something we can do over a longer period of time.
"But to do that, we have to do it with the support of the international agency that’s appointed to do that, WADA. And you can bet your life that if we go above and beyond in contravention of the WADA code, we would be taken to CAS straight away and we would lose."
The Wiggins injections predate Cookson’s election as president of the UCI, and he said that the governing body had since altered the system by which TUEs are permitted, following concerns raised by the granting of a TUE for prednisolone to Chris Froome at the 2014 Tour de Romandie and issues outlined by the Cycling Independent Commission report of 2015.
"All TUEs now have to be agreed unanimously by a panel of three doctors and they are registered with WADA on the ADAMS system. We now go over and above what any other international federation requires for TUEs and that’s a system that will continue," Cookson said.
The Movement for Credible Cycling would like the UCI to go over and above other international federations by placing tighter restrictions on the use of corticosteroids in the peloton. Had Sky been an MPCC team, for instance, Wiggins would not have been able to participate in the 2012 Tour with a TUE, while MPCC member teams also undergo additional, voluntary testing for cortisol. Cookson said that the UCI has lobbied WADA to make alterations to the anti-doping code, but is unable to act independently of the agency.
"We, as an international federation, are bound by the WADA code. From time to time we make certain presentations to them or give them certain requests," Cookson said. "Cortisol levels and tramadol have been among the issues we’ve drawn to their attention, and as of now, WADA and their expert panel, who include experienced sports medicine practitioners, have decided that tramadol should be kept on a watch list, and a low cortisol level of itself is not proof of doping or a grounds for suspending or taking disciplinary action.
"That’s where we are on that. We’ll keep pushing on that. I would like to be able to look at more sport-specific things, but at the moment, WADA tells us that’s not possible."
UK Anti-Doping and Sky
On Friday, it emerged that UK Anti-Doping had begun an inquiry into “an allegation of wrongdoing in cycling” after the Daily Mail reported that then-British Cycling women’s coach Simon Cope had travelled to the final stage of the 2011 Critérium du Dauphiné, a race won by Wiggins, bearing a package containing "a medical substance," which he delivered to Team Sky doctor Richard Freeman at the team bus.
On Friday, two investigators from UKAD visited the National Cycling Centre in Manchester, which is shared by British Cycling and Team Sky, as part of the inquiry. While the details of the investigation are scarce for the time being, Cope’s reported trip to the 2011 Dauphiné has raised questions about the seemingly ad hoc nature of the overlap between Team Sky and British Cycling in the early years of the team.
Cookson was president of British Cycling when Team Sky was founded, and had an observatory position on the team’s operating board until he became president of the UCI in 2013. In that time, he said, Sky and British Cycling were closely and deliberately linked.
"In my time as British Cycling president, we specifically formed it in that way, because we wanted a level of involvement and ownership in the ethics and integrity, and custom and practice of what went on in the management of the team. That changed a bit over time and now it’s completely separate," Cookson said.
"I think the two grew apart a little bit but for quite a number of years, the performance director of British Cycling was the team principal of Team Sky [Brailsford – ed.] and other staff shared roles as well. Eventually Team Sky chose to separate. The sponsor wanted that, I guess, and these things evolve and emerge. But the basic ethos of the reason for forming Team Sky as a partner of British Cycling was to develop riders, and to protect them on issues of doping, integrity, health and so on.
"I hope that ethos has continued. I’d be surprised and disappointed if it hasn’t, but let’s let UK Anti-Doping do their investigation and find out whatever they can. If they come and ask me to contribute, I’d be very happy to contribute, and I’m sure that everyone in British Cycling would be as well."
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Barry Ryan is European Editor at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.