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Former British Cycling and Team Sky head coach Shane Sutton has added fuel to the flames relating to Bradley Wiggins’ controversial use of the corticosteroid triamcinolone, suggesting that acquiring therapeutic use exemptions was a legitimate competitive tactic.
“If you’ve got an athlete that’s 95% ready and that little 5% niggle or injury that’s troubling them, if you can get the TUE to get them to 100%, of course you would in them days,” he said, being interviewed for BBC documentary Cycling’s Superheroes; The Price of Success. It will be broadcast on Sunday evening.
“The business you’re in is to give you the edge on your opponent and ultimately it’s about killing them off. But you definitely don’t cross the line and that’s something we’ve never done.”
Asked if “finding the gains might mean getting the TUE”, Sutton repeated the phrase and then said, “yes, because the rules allow you to do that.”
In September 2016 hackers Fancy Bear leaked information which showed that Wiggins had received triamcinolone injections prior to the 2011 and 2012 Tours de France, as well as before the 2013 Giro d’Italia. The substance is normally banned but he had received a TUE, saying that he had allergies and respiratory problems due to asthma.
This proved controversial as he had previously declared in his autobiography that he had perfect health in the buildup to the 2012 Tour. He also stated in the book that he had never received injections, other than immunisations and some drips when he was very dehydrated.
Several health professionals expressed concern, saying that giving such a potent medication was overkill unless the person concerned was very unwell.
Triamcinolone acetonide is the same corticosteroid Lance Armstrong tested positive for during the 1999 Tour de France. It is a substance which former dopers David Millar, Jorg Jaksche and Michael Rasmussen have all said has potent performance-boosting effects, and which they deliberately used under false pretences to boost their form.
Wiggins insisted that his usage was different to those riders.
Speaking to CyclingTips after the news emerged, Jaksche expressed scepticism. “To be honest, we had the same excuse,” he said. “I personally did it, as well as a lot of cyclists that I know from my era. We always said we had the same thing, the same allergy, but it was actually just for performance-enhancing.
“I think a lot of people suddenly had allergies at the Tour. The UCI cannot really do something about it and WADA can’t really do something about it. Well, they could if they want. But I think Sky had a bit of a credibility benefit because they were Sky.”
He explained how he went about using the substance.
“It was always the same procedure [to get the drug]. You would apply for a TUE, telling WADA that you had hay fever. Your team doctor would tell them you were having certain problems like [watering] eyes, blah blah blah. You would get 50 mg injections before the Tour. It was an old and traditional way of doping.
“The effect was extreme. Cortisone reduces inflammation in your body, number one. It is also a little bit pushy as it is a hormone. So it causes a certain hormone rush.
“On one hand you are at [race] weight and you are more willing to perform, and then on the other hand it is a strong pain killer and an inflammation killer. So your recovery is shorter and the pain you are going through is less.
“It makes you very skinny. It burns fat. If you do it at the beginning of the Tour, you are going to lose another one to two kilos in the first week. You are going to suffer less. You are going to be less tired as your recuperation is faster because of the anti-inflammatory effects. It is the old school of doping.”
Millar said that the drug was the most potent thing he took during his career.
That too raised questions about why corticosteroid injections were needed by a rider who won the 2011 and 2012 editions of the Critérium du Dauphiné.
Under UCI rules, a substance such as triamcinolone should only be given as a last resort.
Those rules include the following:
2) The Rider would experience a significant impairment to health if the Prohibited Substance or Prohibited Method were to be withheld in the course of treating an acute or chronic medical condition.
3) The therapeutic use of the Prohibited Substance or Prohibited Method would produce no additional enhancement of performance other than that which might be anticipated by a return to a state of normal health following the treatment of a legitimate medical condition.
4) There is no reasonable therapeutic alternative to the use of the otherwise Prohibited Substance or Prohibited Method.
In other words, if injections were not necessary, if any breathing difficulties could have been eliminated by milder treatments, then Wiggins and the team should have used those alternatives.
Sutton’s admission that ‘the business you’re in is to give you the edge on your opponent’ and that using a TUE to find a gain was fine has raised concerns. On Saturday WADA President Sir Craig Reedie told The Times that the comments were ‘very disappointing.’
“My reaction to this quote from Shane Sutton has to be that I am extremely disappointed in this statement because the TUE system recognises accurate and responsible medical evidence.
“The inference is that the system can be used and that’s the worrying thing if someone is seeking to do that.”
Millar was also interviewed for the documentary. He told Telegraph Sport last year that Kenacort [triamcinolone] was a “powerful” performance enhancer. “If you are non-asthmatic and you take Ventolin, it’s not going to give you any advantage,” he said then. “But if you take Kenacort it’s not only going to make a sick person better, it’s going to make a sick person better than a healthy person. That’s a very grey area,” he said.
In the latest BBC documentary, he is asked if he considered that Team Sky was essentially gaming the system by using TUEs in this way. “Yes, I think that’s quite obvious,” he answered. “I think we all know that. It’s hugely disappointing.
“Team Sky were zero tolerance . . . so you’d think zero tolerance would mean not treading in that very grey area which is cortisone use. Because it is performance-enhancing.
“So when I heard that it was like ‘seriously?’ A little bit of me died, to be honest with you. Because I thought you guys were different.”