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British Members of Parliament seeking to uncover the full truth over a mystery package delivered to Bradley Wiggins in June 2011 have encountered further frustration. The questioning Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee inquiry heard on Wednesday that there is no proof to back up their claims that the delivery contained a legal substance permitted by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
Former Team Sky doctor Richard Freeman, who is understood to have administered the contents of the package to Wiggins on the final day of the 2011 Critérium du Dauphiné, informed the committee on Tuesday that he would not be attending due to illness. He had previously been requested to appear.
MPs heard on Wednesday that Freeman has told the UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) personnel looking into the case that his laptop was stolen while on holiday in 2014 and, consequently, that he has no records to show what the package contained.
Team Sky Principal Dave Brailsford had previously said at a hearing in December that the package had contained a legal decongestant.
“[Team doctor Richard] Freeman told me it was Fluimucil for a nebuliser,” Brailsford stated then. “That was what was in the package. It was what Dr Freeman told me.”
Brailsford also claimed there was nothing unusual with former British Cycling employee Simon Cope being asked to travel from Britain via Switzerland to deliver a product that was available for less than ten euro in pharmacies close to where the race was taking place.
UKAD Chief Executive Nicole Sapstead said that Freeman had no documentation to show that the bag contained Fluimucil.
She said that there was no record of British Cycling’s stores containing Fluimucil, but that the records did show what she termed an ‘excessive amount [of the corticosteroid triamcinolone] being ordered.’
Sapstead says she has seen many records at BC/Sky for triamcinolone but none for fluimicil. None.
— Steve Scott (@stevescott_itv) March 1, 2017
In September a leak by the Fancy Bear hacker group showed that Wiggins had received injections of triamcinolone prior to the 2011 and 2012 Tours and the 2013 Giro d’Italia. It is normally banned, but was approved via a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) the team obtained through the UCI.
The use of the corticosteroid clashed with previous statements Wiggins had made about not receiving injections, as did his claims that he was sufficiently ill to warrant needing such a strong medication.
Previous dopers such as Joerg Jaksche, Michael Rasmussen, and David Millar have said that they requested, and received, TUEs on health grounds in order to be able to benefit from triamcinolone’s performance-enhancing properties, which include weight loss and a reduction in inflammation, allowing athletes to recover quickly.
The delivery of the package has raised questions, both because of a previous long silence about what it contained, and also because of inaccuracies Brailsford initially gave to the newspaper which broke the story in October.
The Team Sky boss told the Daily Mail then that Cope had gone to La Toussuire to see the British female competitor Emma Pooley. However Pooley was almost 700 miles away from there that day, riding the Emakumeen Bira in Spain.
Brailsford also told the newspaper that the team bus had left the location before Wiggins returned from podium duties, and that the driver, the team’s Head of Athlete Performance Tim Kerrison and Head of Performance Operations Rod Ellingworth all vouched for this.
However video footage from the end of the race showed this was not the case, with Wiggins being interviewed after the podium presentation, at the team bus.
This was important as the Daily Mail story had said that the package was administered by Freeman on the team bus.
The lack of proof that the package contained Fluimucil is of interest to the Select Committee and UKAD. Wiggins’ use of triamcinolone was only authorised from June 29, 2011, and for a single use injection.
UKAD will likely seek to determine if the large supplies of the corticosteroid were for one rider, or if the substance was administered to many.
Cope justifies actions, UKAD reveals team doctor didn’t share records as required
While Freeman did not attend the hearing, Cope did, and was questioned over the delivery of the package. He claimed that he never asked what was in the bag he was containing, saying that he made the trip without questions because he wanted to ensure he had a job for the future. He said that the role he had at the time had shrunk and he was concerned about possibly being laid off.
“Why would I ask? I didn’t think anything was untoward,” he told MPs. “It’s a national governing body – why would I question the integrity of our governing body?”
He said that in retrospect he should have sought clarification of what he was transporting.
Cope said that his trip was also to collect British Cycling’s then-technical director Shane Sutton – who was also Wiggins’ coach – plus some team bikes.
“It is normal in our world,” he said, when asked if such a long journey was typical. “If you understand the sport we’re in, people do unusual things like flying detergent to a race because one rider is allergic.”
He also defended taking an unknown package on a plane, saying that the circumstances of the request made it acceptable.
“If a guy on the street gave me a package, I think I’d be suspicious. But as I’ve said, this is our national governing body. I had no reason to be suspicious at all.”
Sapstead said that, since the investigation into the package began in September, UKAD has interviewed 34 people. She stated that the investigation had established that Sutton had requested Cope deliver the package, and that British Cycling physiotherapist Phil Burt had prepared it.
Burt now says he has “no recollection” of the contents of the package.
According to Sapstead, she said that her organisation had been unable to either “confirm or refute the one account we have been given” as regards to the nature of the package.
Sapstead confirms Kenalog (triamcinolone) was certainly ordered into BC, but no record as to how used or prescribed
— Tom Cary (@tomcary_tel) March 1, 2017
How much ordered? Sapstead: ‘It’s serious stuff. Either excessive amount ordered for one person or quite a few ppl had similar prob’. yikes
— Tom Cary (@tomcary_tel) March 1, 2017
Sapstead asked about theft of Freeman’s laptop in 2014. “Working with Interpol… it was reported to BC” When? “Not sure. Will find out.”
— Tom Cary (@tomcary_tel) March 1, 2017
Her disclosure that Freeman had claimed that his laptop was stolen came as it was also revealed that he had not been sharing medical records with other Team Sky doctors.
“Our inquiries have established Dr Freeman kept medical records on a laptop,” she said. “He was meant to, according to Team Sky policy and a policy that other doctors followed, upload the medical records onto a Dropbox that all doctors had access to. He did not do that for one reason or another.
“In 2014, we had been informed his laptop had been stolen while he was on holiday in Greece and that’s why we’ve not been able to access those records.”
She said that the team’s policy was to keep records, but that not everyone adhered to that. She expressed concerns about this.
“I would expect, particularly for a professional road cycling team that was founded on the premise of exhibiting that road racing could be conducted cleanly, to have records that would be able to demonstrate any inferences to the contrary,” she said, adding that Freeman’s failure to keep medical records appears to contravene British medical rules, and that General Medical Council may investigate.
The Select Committee has said that it may summon Freeman at a later date.
A ‘mystery’ medical package, a courier, a doctor, a famous rider & a ground-breaking cycling team
It’s British Cycling under the microscope pic.twitter.com/Si8DBhSeYE
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) March 1, 2017
Following the hearing, British Cycling issued a statement:
British Cycling welcomes the comments of UKAD chief executive Nicole Sapstead and would like to thank her and other UKAD staff for their work. We have cooperated fully with UKAD throughout this process and we have encouraged others to do the same.
We acknowledge serious failings in our record keeping at the time. Our medicines management processes have been reviewed several times since 2011 and, through working with UKAD in recent months, we have identified further areas for improvement on this and in the provision of our wider medical services.
As has already been reported, Dr Richard Freeman is currently unwell. British Cycling owes a duty of care to him as his employer and therefore we will not make any further comment at this time.
British Cycling chair Jonathan Browning said: “Following the comments from UKAD chief executive Nicole Sapstead, we can announce the following measures to address clear failings in our processes highlighted in the investigation:
“First, an audit of our medical services provided to the Great Britain Cycling Team – we have taken the initial steps to enable the Care Quality Commission to examine the medical support we offer to our athletes and to identify areas of improvement.
“Second, a further review of the Great Britain Cycling Team’s medicines management policy – we will be seeking UKAD support in this.
“At British Cycling, we are wholly committed to clean sport and I want to assure athletes, fans and all other stakeholders that this commitment is unwavering.
“For anyone lucky enough to be working in any sport, it is not enough to just be clean, we must also be able to demonstrate that we are clean with transparent and accountable processes including good record-keeping and solid policies on all areas of medical support.
“This is a fundamental responsibility, rooted in our duty to the athletes in our care as well as in our duty to the sport, and one which we take extremely seriously.”