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Speaking to the parliament committee which has been investigating Team Sky, British Cycling and Bradley Wiggins, Nicole Cooke has provided strong criticism and raised questions about the stance of all three.
The former world and Olympic champion said she was ‘sceptical’ of Team Sky’s declaration that it was the cleanest team in cycling, saying that she is uneasy about the transportation of a mystery package to Wiggins in 2011 and also about his therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs).
“Taking TUEs just before major events, it raises questions for me,” she stated, referring to Wiggins’ use of a powerful corticosteroid before the 2011 and 2012 Tours de France and the 2013 Giro d’Italia. “It makes me sceptical of what they have done.
“I find the stance of being the cleanest team and yet the team principal Brailsford not knowing what the riders are being treated with [strange]. It definitely makes it hard to back up that claim when he obviously doesn’t know what was going on until recently.”
Cooke was speaking to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee which had earlier interviewed Sky Team Principal Dave Brailsford, Wiggins’ former coach Shane Sutton and others in December. In that session Brailsford had – after a wait of several weeks – finally confirmed what he said were the contents of a package delivered from Manchester to the Critérium du Dauphiné stage race in France in 2011.
He said that it contained the legal decongestant Fluimacil.
That delivery had been revealed by the Daily Mail in October but was initially denied by Brailford, who gave inaccurate explanations.
Since his December appearance no proof has emerged that Fluimacil was indeed the product in question. Select committee members have expressed dissatisfaction with the evidence given and lack of follow-up details, and said that they may re-call witnesses and request others to speak.
In addition to Cooke’s verbal submission she also provided a ten page written declaration which alleged widespread sexism and also accused UK Anti Doping (UKAD) of not taking doping complaints seriously.
‘Astonishing’ that contents of package not known
Former pro rider Simon Cope was the person who transported the package to Team Sky. He was working as British women’s road coach at the time, but carried out the delivery for the professional men’s team. He has since been given a senior position within Team Wiggins.
Cope has claimed not to know what the package contained, something Cooke believes is unlikely.
“I do find it very surprising if Simon Cope was transporting something over international borders that he didn’t know what was in it. I find that astonishing,” she said.
She also raised questions as to why a British Cycling worker carried out such a delivery, asking “why an employee, whose salary is paid out of the public purse, is directed by his managers, also paid out of the public purse, to spend several days driving from the south of England to Manchester and back and then catch a plane to fly to France and back, all to urgently deliver a package, the contents of which he claims he is ignorant of.
“And throughout, the management can direct him to do this with no thought for the responsibilities of his post, as British Women’s Road Team Coach.”
She raised questions about past links between Cope and Wiggins plus questions raised about their-then team, and also expressed dissatisfaction with the investigation into that team by UKAD.
“Pertinent to the “jiffy bag” incident is that two of the protagonists are directly involved in the Linda McCartney cycling team,” she said in her written statement. “Both Simon Cope and Bradley Wiggins rode for this team. Team Manager Julian Clark and rider Matt DeCanio state that doping was practised within the team. Other BC employees and ex employees involved in the team are current U23 men’s road team manager Keith Lambert, ex team doctor Roger Palfreeman, who was doctor on the team, Max Sciandri and ex Team Sky manager Sean Yates who rode for a number of years on the same team as Lance Armstrong.
“Apparently UKAD have testimony from three members of the team stating that riders used PEDs. The investigation was started in 2012 when the claims were first made by The Times newspaper. UKAD did advise at the outset patience would be needed before outcomes would be reached. ‘All valid information that could lead to a prosecution will be followed up.’
“As recently as June 2016 three of the British members of this team, Sean Yates, Max Sciandri and Matt Stephens, who is a commentator on the sport for Eurosport, all stated that UKAD had made no contact with them. Four years on – how patient do we have to be, or are UKAD doing nothing?
“I am not an expert on the legal framework under which UKAD management operate. I can only state from my viewpoint they appear very keen to grasp any excuse not to do anything a clean athlete might view as of merit.”
Cooke gave a personal example of anti-doping authorities not acting when they should, saying that she had twice presented evidence and been frustrated each time.
“In the first case they stated they would not do anything with my evidence,” she wrote, speaking of UKAD’s predecessor. “On the second they took no notes during the meeting and informed me I could not be given any information of any sort as to how they might process the evidence I gave them.
“My belief, based on the lack of action I observed post this event, is that they did nothing at all on that second occasion either.
“On another occasion I asked them to follow up on the case of a rider who was apparently serving a two year ban and had been stripped of an Olympic medal but was being offered to me some 9 months later as a team mate and had already been back competing for several months and just become Pan American champion! After some initial good support from UKAD, I was soon left to pursue this case with WADA alone. I found identical reactions at WADA to those at UKAD and when conventional inquiries were ignored, I had to resort to writing recorded delivery letters to Dick Pound in order to elicit responses.”
Cooke stated that she pursued this case for two years but nothing was done. The same rider tested positive again in 2015, being handed a four year ban. She had previously been given back her Olympic medal.
“Swords made of chocolate”
Known for many years as a rider who speaks her mind, Cooke has been critical in the past about doping. She continues to call things as she sees them, and questions why doping hasn’t been made illegal in Britain.
Other countries such as France, Italy and Germany have legal rules in place in this regard, but Britain has thus far not done so.
She gave examples as to how making such actions illegal pay off, saying that this enabled Italians to monitor and then catch former directeur sportif William Dazzani. He had been part of an early team of hers in Italy and two of those working there encouraged her to dope.
Complaints by her to UKAD’s predecessor led to nothing, but Italian laws and a willingness to chase up the situation led to Dazzani’s arrest.
“Fortunately not all those receiving a very good salary from the public purse to “protecting the right to participate in clean sport” (UKAD), have swords apparently made of chocolate,” she wrote. “If UKAD want an example of how to act they should just look at how diligently the Italian authorities pursued Spanish cyclist Valverde in the Puerto case.
“Valverde was careful not to race in Italy, where doping violations are a criminal offence. However he did not look closely enough at the route map for the Tour de France one year. The Italian authorities bided their time and waited until the Tour de France came to a finish in Italy and Valverde was then within their jurisdiction. They seized him and conducted a test and were able to get a sample of DNA. Later, when a temporary stand in Judge was maintaining the case in Spain, they succeeded in obtaining a sample from one of the blood bags held by the authorities there. As a direct consequence of this action and only because of it, Valverde was banned for two years.”
Questions raised about possible abuse of TUEs
In her submission to the select committee, Cooke volunteers information about her past use of certain substances. She said that a knee injury in November 2003 led to a decision together with British Cycling’s coaching team and medical staff to take the corticosteroid triamcinolone rather than undergo knee surgery.
She states that she received a TUE granting permission to use the medication. Afterwards, she didn’t race for months. The treatment was unable to rectify the situation and she finally had surgery in May 2004.
She received another injection of the substance in September 2007 and again had a long delay before competing again. On this occasion it was five months.
Triamcinolone is the same substance as was used by Bradley Wiggins in 2011, 2012 and 2013. While she had long delays before competing again, thus allowing all effects to leave her system, Wiggins took the corticosteroid before his main goals in each of those seasons.
Previous dopers such as David Millar, Michael Rasmussen and Jorg Jaksche have all said that they acquired corticosteroids under false or exaggerated pretences in order to be able to avail of their considerable benefit.
She questions Wiggins’ usage of the product plus its timing.
“This is a powerful steroid with known PED properties. If the TUE process were to be reliably controlled, then an athlete would not be able to abuse its use OOC to prepare for a big event. In 2006, 12 of the 13 positive test results at the men’s Tour de France were discounted by riders having active TUEs. 105 of the 176 starters were tested, and 60% had TUEs. In 2008, 76 of the 180 riders who started the men’s Tour de France had TUEs.
“My personal experience is that sometimes I attended anti-doping protocols with other competitors who took in files with many TUEs. 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.
“In 2003/4 I brought up my concerns with UKAD that the TUE approval process was being abused. Once again I was informed that UKAD would do nothing about my concerns to investigate it as in their view “there were a number of very poorly elite athletes competing”. Eventually the authorities have acted to tighten up the issuing process, but current with that is the move that makes usage of these drugs with PED side effects, legal in OOC use.
“The significant majority of an elite athlete’s time is spent out of competition. One gate was closed but a bigger one opened.”
As regards Team Sky and British Cycling’s TUEs for the corticosteroid, she said that she had concerns. She suggests that both bodies should be asked for clarification about the use of such TUEs.
“Perhaps, the more relevant question, rather than the strange coincident chronology of the ailment, is to ask the BC/Sky medical team how often has this steroid been issued to athletes out of competition. Is it used properly – to help recover from career threatening injuries or has it ever been used to assist athletes losing fat and gaining power in the out of competition preparation for major events?
“Undoubtedly the question would not receive an answer even if it could be asked and therefore we are back with those at the top of the sport and their apparent lack of desire to put in place effective rules or change them to be less effective. [The] whereabouts violations slackening from ‘three missed tests in 18 months,’ being eased to the lower threshold of ‘three in 12 months’ [is] another simple example.”