Saying that its investigation was ‘hampered by a lack of accurate medical records,’ something it says was a ‘serious concern,’ UK Anti Doping has announced that it has ended its investigation into Team Sky’s actions at the 2011 Critérium du Dauphiné.
The agency said that it found it impossible to confirm the contents of the package personally transported from Britain to France via Switzerland by British Cycling employee Simon Cope, and administered by the-then Sky team doctor Richard Freeman to Bradley Wiggins.
Team Sky and Wiggins were plunged into controversy last year when the news of the package emerged, not least because Team Principal Dave Brailsford claimed that Cope was in France to visit Emma Pooley. This was quickly proven not to be true.
Ditto for a claim by him that Wiggins didn’t return to the Team Sky bus after the race, where the medication was said to have been administered. Video footage showed that he had indeed been at the vehicle.
The inconsistencies in Brailsford’s story, the long delay before the team said that the package contained the decongestant Fluimucil, plus the huge lengths Cope went to to deliver a product which was already available in France raised suspicions.
So too separate news that Wiggins had received injections of the powerful corticiosteroid Triamcinolone prior to the 2011 and 2012 Tours de France, plus the 2013 Vuelta a España.
This is normally banned, and had previously been used by known doping riders such as Jorg Jaksche and Michael Rasmussen in the past to lose weight and boost performance. However Wiggins acquired a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) to take the substance due to what he said was severe asthma.
While the TUE was legal, statements in Wiggins’ autobiography that he had never received injections other than immunisations and drips, and that he had been in excellent health leading up to the 2012 Tour de France, jarred with the news that he had taken Triamcinolone.
It was in this context that UKAD investigated the jiffy bag delivery, seeking to determine exactly what was in the package. However Freeman had failed to file medical records on Team Sky’s online system.
He said that he instead kept the records on his laptop, but claimed that it had been stolen while on holidays in Greece. Freeman has reportedly been suffering from ill health and has been unavailable for interviews with UKAD or the separate Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee inquiry.
Because of this, and because of the lack of records, UKAD said on Wednesday that it was simply unable to properly investigate the matter.
“Despite very significant effort on UKAD’s part, UKAD remains unable to confirm or refute the account that the package delivered to Team Sky contained Fluimucil. It follows that UKAD does not intend to issue any anti-doping charges in relation to the package,” it said.
“As with all investigations, UKAD may revisit matters if new and material information were to come to light. Otherwise however, UKAD has now exhausted all the investigative possibilities open to it at this stage, and it is therefore not actively pursuing any further lines of enquiry in relation to the package.”
Team Sky issued a brief statement welcoming the news.
“UK Anti-Doping has today confirmed that it does not intend to bring forward any anti-doping charges in relation to its investigation into issues around the 2011 Criterium du Dauphine. This investigation has now been brought to a close,” it said.
“We are pleased that UK Anti-Doping have concluded their investigation and that they will not be taking any further action.
“We have always maintained that there was no wrongdoing and we have co-operated fully with UK Anti-Doping over the last year.
“Since our inception as a new pro cycling team in 2010 we have continually strengthened our systems and processes so they best support our strong commitment to anti-doping.”
However the tone of the statement contrasts with the frustration expressed by UKAD Chief Executive Nicole Sapstead.
“I can confirm that UKAD does not intend to issue any anti-doping charges as a result of the investigation into the package,” she said.
“As with all UKAD investigations, our work has been thorough and extensive, and I can reassure the public that we treat every credible allegation with the utmost seriousness.
“Our investigation was hampered by a lack of accurate medical records being available at British Cycling. This is a serious concern. As part of their conditions to receive public funding from UK Sport and other Home Country Sports Councils, all sports governing bodies must comply with the UK National Anti-Doping Policy. In this case the matter was further complicated by the cross over between personnel at British Cycling and Team Sky.
“We have written to British Cycling and a copy of this letter has also been sent to UK Sport and Sport England. We have also separately written to Team Sky.
“Finally, we have referred some information to the GMC [General Medical Council], and will cooperate with the GMC as necessary in respect of that information.”
Freeman was employed by Team Sky and British Cycling. While Sky appears to absolve itself of any blame in its statement, British Cycling has acknowledged that its own responsibilities weren’t met.
“UKAD’s findings represent an organisation and culture that, despite delivering on the world stage, did not meet the high standards that British Cycling today holds itself to,” said British Cycling Chief Executive Officer Julie Harrington.
“We note that UKAD have referred information arising from their investigation to the General Medical Council and we offer them our wholehearted cooperation.
“British Cycling have implemented a number of significant changes to the management of our medical services to the Great Britain Cycling Team following a review instigated in March by chair Jonathan Browning, shortly after his appointment.”
She said that things had changed in relation to how top-level sport was run in Britain.
“The association between British Cycling and Team Sky has been a positive force for cycling in this country. However we accept that the relationship between British Cycling and Team Sky developed rapidly and as a result, at times, resulted in the blurring of the boundaries between the two. This led to some failings in the way that processes and people were managed.
“Today, based on our learning together there are clear boundaries and distinctions between our two organisations: no one is simultaneously employed by British Cycling and Team Sky; and we each have our own practices in place for managing athlete records.”
Despite what are frustrations for many over the lack of clarity about what happened in the Wiggins case, Harrington concluded by saying that she wants to make sure that people can believe in British sport.
“My focus now is on ensuring that we can give athletes and the public the reassurance they need to believe in our ability to win clean on the biggest global stages because of the systems and controls we have put in place,” she said.
“We are intent on ensuring that the integrity of our record keeping is never called into question again.”
That, unfortunately, is of little help in determining with certainty what happened at the 2011 Critérium du Dauphiné.