Commentary: Team Sky’s tattered reputation is eroded further by Edmondson’s needle admission
Team Sky hasn’t had the best time of it in recent months. The British outfit has been making headlines more for a continuing slew of controversies than for its racing efforts, and is currently under investigation by UK Anti-Doping over the 2011 delivery of a package to Bradley Wiggins, purportedly containing flu medicine.
Wiggins, triamcinolone, Cope, fluimucil, Freeman, stolen laptop … we all know the major plot points, and by now most of us have some grasp on what’s been going on, even if the often-refreshed stories and excuses coming from the team make it near-impossible to keep up.
Today a fresh scandal was thrown into the mix with ex-Sky rider Josh Edmondson admitting to BBC News that he injected himself with vitamins while contracted to Sky. While the drugs he used were legal, injecting them was not, as the the method violates the UCI’s no-needle policy, which was put in place back in 2011. Edmondson also claims that the team ‘covered up’ his actions.
Meanwhile Dr Steve Peters, Sky’s head doctor, claims that Edmondson didn’t inject himself, saying, “He said he did not know how to use it. All he said was: ‘I did not know what to do so I left it.’”
Aside from the syringes, Edmondson (who rode at Continental team NFTO in 2016, but is without a team in 2017) also used a number of supplements and vitamins: Carnitine (a supplement which supposedly helps with burning fat), folic acid (known as vitamin B9, which aids red blood cell production), vitamin B12 (which prevents a certain type of anaemia), TAD (glutathione, an antioxidant) and another lesser-known supplement.
Unsurprisingly the benefits of these supplements look to range from limited to extremely hazy, but the fact that professional cyclists, such as the Kovalev brothers, seem to be using such a range of substances (even if they are legal) is troubling.
Edmondson was found out when an unnamed teammate found his stash at the Tour of Poland, taking photographs of the supplements and syringes and handing over the evidence to team management. “I got back … and noticed all the vitamins which had been hidden in my room were on top of this chest of drawers – and I realised I’d been caught out,” he said.
The syringes and the plethora of supplements are not the whole story. Edmondson also admitted that he abused the powerful painkiller tramadol, and, worryingly, was given the drug by a race doctor at the 2013 Tour of Britain. Tramadol, if you recall, was the drug that ex-Sky rider Michael Barry said he and several teammates used during his time at the British team.
Here’s what Edmondson said about the drug, which is currently only on the WADA Monitored List despite numerous concerning stories about its use in cycling, and multiple governing bodies (including the UCI) lobbying for a ban.
“Tramadol makes you feel ‘dead’ the next day,” Edmondson said. “I felt hungover. The withdrawal from the tramadol made me feel depressed. I felt like someone had thrown me down some stairs for a few days.”
Worrying indeed — a description that makes it hard to imagine racing bikes after taking tramadol.
The use of this laundry list of substances, administered intravenously (tramadol aside), was “closing the gap a little without doping” according to now-24-year-old Edmondson, who went on to call what he was doing “an alternative to doping … just freshening what you do naturally.”
Of course, if you follow that line of thinking you could make the case that using recombinant human erythropoietin (EPO) is just “freshening what you do naturally”, but that’s an argument for an Italian doctor.
Edmondson was let go by Team Sky at the end of 2014, with the team citing a “lack of professionalism and poor communication.” Some impressive spin, for sure.
Sky’s role in this fresh scandal is, rather obviously, an important one. One side alleges a cover-up, while the embattled team representative is adamant that no anti-doping rules were broken by their ex-rider: “Once you use that word you are saying there was an intent behind us to conceal and that was never the case.”
Since the story broke the team has issued a statement, backing up what Peters said, adding that an internal investigation concluded there was no evidence Edmondson had done what he is now claiming.
“The senior management team were made aware of this immediately and an investigation was initiated,” the statement read. “At the conclusion of this we were satisfied that, while there had been a breach of the team’s own policies, there was no evidence of any anti-doping violation having taken place.”
Of course, it’s going to be extremely hard to prove what Edmondson claims (though there are no conveniently stolen laptops this time). To document ones own drug-taking would be a feat of stupidity even Riccardo Riccò would baulk at.
But just say some evidence did emerge. What would happen then? A rider breaking the no-needle rule, getting caught and reported by a teammate, then having the act swept under the carpet would presumably result in some sort of immediate team-related ban, right?
Not quite. As a refresher, here is the text of the UCI needle ban.
Obviously injecting supplements does not satisfy any of these conditions (all substances and every type of injection fall under the ban), so assuming Edmondson is telling the truth then the rule has been broken.
The punishment doled out by the UCI Disciplinary Commission in the case of regulation 13.3.052 being broken is as follows:
– For a first offence: Suspension from eight days to six months and/or a fine of CHF 1,000 (US$1,000; AU$1,300) to CHF 100,000 (US$100,000; AU$130,000);
– For a second offence within two years of the first: Suspension of at least six months or lifetime suspension and a fine of CHF 10,000 (US$10,000; AU$13,000) to CHF 200,000 (US$200,000; AU$260,000);
– The penalties shall apply to any licence-holder found to have committed the violation or to be an accomplice; application of article 1.1.086 (which holds the team manager equally responsible as those committing the infraction) is reserved.
It’s a section of the UCI rulebook we have yet to become familiar with, largely because, as yet, nobody has fallen foul of this seemingly unenforceable rule. The punishment is not too harsh to start out with, but multiple offences (Edmondson admitted to injecting himself “two or three times a week” and more if he wanted to lose weight) could mean the end of a career, possibly the end of a team given the accomplice addendum.
Meanwhile another section of the UCI Regulations outlines what constitutes an anti-doping rule violation. Prohibited substances, prohibited methods, refusing sample collection, whereabouts failures – they’re all there. So too is complicity, which covers: “Assisting, encouraging, aiding, abetting, conspiring, covering up or any other type of intentional complicity involving an anti-doping rule violation or attempted anti-doping rule violation.”
That would be another rule broken, and a four-year ban for those involved to boot.
But at the moment this is all hypothetical. As things stand it’s hard to imagine any of these doomsday scenarios coming to pass for Team Sky. The addition of yet another scandal to the pile is a terrible look for the team though, and can only serve to erode the already shredded reputation of the self-proclaimed clean team.