Damian Collins MP, the Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee has told Cyclingnews that the leadership at Team Sky should take responsibility for their failings to provide sufficient medical records in the UK Anti-Doping investigation surrounding Bradley Wiggins.
UKAD are investigating a potential doping violation carried out in 2011 when British Cycling sent a medical package to Dr Richard Freeman at the 2011 Criterium du Dauphiné. British Cycling and Team Sky both claim that the package contained the decongestant Fluimucil and that it was used to treat Bradley Wiggins. No party has been able to back up the claim with medical records, however, and the select committee heard allegations that the package contained the steroid triamcinolone.
Collins has already made his feelings on Team Sky and their ethical standards clear, stating that their reputation was in 'tatters' after the doctor at the centre of the inquiry failed to give oral evidence due to medical reasons.
“The issues with the package is that the more we get told about it, and the way it was ordered, then the less sense any of this seems to make,” Collins told Cyclingnews.
There are a number of areas in Team Sky's story that puzzle Collins. For instance, why would the team spend four days transporting a medical package for an apparently sick rider when they could have sourced the medicine locally? Team Sky this week admitted that they had previously sourced Fluimucil in Switzerland, just over the border from where the Dauphiné finished that year.
"What's never really been explained is, if a medicine was needed for a rider who is currently in competition, why would they wait until after competition to seek that medicine when it could have been given to him during the race? Then why they took the highly unusual step of taking it from Manchester which took a number of days, rather than collecting it from a local pharmacy that would have taken a number of hours," Collins said.
"Now that we know that one of their suppliers for Fluimucil was based so close to where they were at the time that it would have been much easier for the Fluimucil to be collected from the pharmacy in Switzerland than having it brought out from Manchester – a process that took four days."
What was in the package?
The central question to the UKAD investigation and the select committee’s inquiry still revolves around one question – what was in the package? The physio who packaged the medical products in Manchester told UKAD he could not remember what was in there. Dr Freeman, although he has claimed it was Fluimucil, has no medical records to back this up after his laptop was reportedly stolen while on holiday in Greece in 2014.
"The truth is, no one knows," Collins added.
"That's what Dr Freeman has said was in it but no one can substantiate that. There's no evidence to say that's what it was. There's an allegation that it was triamcinolone but there's no evidence to support that either. It's bad that there's no record. The leadership of Team Sky should be responsible for ensuring that proper records are kept so that there can be proper checks made on the medication given to any rider and their lead rider at the time."
Team Sky had said that the form of the Fluimucil - a 10 per cent solution in 3ml dose for use in a nebuliser - was not available in France, and even if it was, Dr. Freeman had no powers to write prescriptions in France. But he did, according to Sky, have prescription rights in Switzerland, and had ordered the drug from the Pharmacie de la Plaine in Yverdon, a three-hour drive away from the stage where Wiggins sealed the victory at the Dauphiné.
According to Collins, Team Sky had attempted to lay the responsibility all on Freeman's shoulders. The team had previously told Cyclingnews that Dr Freeman was supposed to update all rider medical records via Dropbox but that he had failed to following their instructions on numerous occasions.
"I don't think that it's good enough to just blame the doctor for poor record keeping. Someone in the team has to take responsibility for what's going on," Collins said.
"From the most recent response, the blame for the failure to ensure that records were kept have been laid squarely at the feet of the doctor and Steve Peters as the medical director of the team. In their most recent statement it's quite clear that they think that the doctor should have kept the records and that if someone should have been checking then it should have been Dr. Peters."
Freeman remains silent
Dr Freeman has refrained from making any public comment on the situation. He was due to appear in front of the committee earlier this month but declined at the last minute, citing medical grounds. The Select Committee has sent two batches of questions to Freeman in the last week and although no deadline has been set for a response, Collins has made clear that the questions are likely to be published if Freeman fails to respond.
"The committee have submitted a number of written questions and we'd like to him to respond in writing. We'd still like to call him to give oral evidence when he is able to do so. Freeman has yet to respond to questions that were sent to him last week," Collins said.
"We've not given him a deadline but some questions were sent last week and some others were sent earlier this week. As soon as we get those responses then we'll publish them."
Should Freeman fail to cooperate, it's uncertain whether Collins will call further witnesses to give evidence. He and the committee have already ruled out calling Wiggins.
When asked if the committee could complete their report without Freeman's evidence, Collins responded: "In theory, yes. We want to move now towards working on the report itself. We can consider information as we go on and if we're in a position where we receive further information after the report is published we can still publish that evidence and we can still publish a supplement to the report if we wish to. We can still return to this at any time. If we don't get a response from Dr Freeman, then I'm sure that the committee would at least want to publish the questions that we'd asked but hadn't had answered. We're not in that position yet. We want to give him the opportunity to answer the questions.
"Crucially the answers that we receive from Dr Freeman will dictate the final stages of the inquiry."
As for Team Sky, the story shows little sign of disappearing. According to one member of squad, the management are informing riders that the investigation is not a big story. Sky's board has recently given Dave Brailsford their '100%' backing, however a rider told Cyclingnews earlier this month that several riders had discussed whether or not Brailsford should be approached with a request to stand down.
Brailsford last week told Cyclingnews that he would be remaining at the team, and riders were instructed by the management to show their support for the team principal on social media in wake of Cyclingnews' exclusive report.
"We think that it's bad that they can't tell us, based off evidence, what was in the package," Collins concluded.
"I find the whole story about how the package was requested, what was in it and what was sent out, to be an extraordinary story that doesn't appear to make much sense to anyone. The challenge we've put to Team Sky is that if you say that you have the highest ethical standards and procedures, then why was it that they failed? There were clear failures in team policy that meant that those medical records weren't recorded."
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Daniel Benson is the Editor in Chief at both Cyclingnews.com and BikePerfect.com. Based in the UK, he has worked within cycling for almost 15 years, and he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he has reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he runs the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.
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