UCI President David Lappartient has called for the Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation, an independent arm of the UCI, to open an investigation into the medical practices at Team Sky more than half a decade ago.
The Frenchman described the Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) system of the time as “a little bit simple,” and called into question the legitimacy of TUEs that were applied for and granted.
“[Sky] had, at the time, the TUE agreement. But now we have the evidence that it seems to be organized,” he said.
The statements came in a wide-ranging interview with the BBC conducted from UCI headquarters in Aigle, Switzerland. Lappartient addressed the recent report from the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee, which described Sky’s behaviour as having “crossed an ethical line.”
In the interview, Lappartient called for the investigation from CADF, questioned why Sky would not join the Mouvement Pour un Cyclisme Credible (MPCC), addressed Sky principal Dave Brailsford’s continued management of the troubled team, and called, once again, for Chris Froome to self-suspend until his case is resolved.
“The report damaged Team Sky, damaged cycling,” Lappartient said.
Team Sky responded on Wednesday, saying that it is “happy to co-operate with any investigation by the UCI and we would welcome further scrutiny of the Select Committee’s report.”
“While we have acknowledged past failings, we strongly deny the very serious new allegations about the use of medication to enhance performance, as does Bradley Wiggins,” Sky’s statement read.
“Furthermore, we are concerned that the Committee presented these unsubstantiated allegations without providing evidence to support them, which is fundamentally unfair to the Team and its riders.”
The parliamentary report in question alleged that Team Sky used corticosteroids like triamcinolone, which have been abused by professional cyclists in the past to decrease weight and are legal in competition with a TUE, in a manner that was not consistent with true medical need. A TUE granted without true medical need would run afoul of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s code. Team Sky and Bradley Wiggins have both strongly denied that any drugs were used, or any TUEs granted, without a medical need.
When asked directly whether he believed Wiggins’ denials, Lappartient took a long pause. “I just saw the article from a certain [outlet], it said, ‘You have to tell the truth.’ Well, it seems that it was not the truth, if I correctly understand what is behind this.”
Lappartient seemed to suggest that even a TUE that was granted initially could be re-examined in light of additional findings.
“If you are using substances to increase your performances, I think this is exactly what is cheating,” he said.
“We have the Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation. They have the power of investigation. I would like them to do this, to see if there is some violation of anti-doping rules,” Lappartient said.
The UCI updated and strengthened its TUE rules in 2014, requiring a panel of three specialist doctors to approve any TUE. Prior to that update, a single doctor — often the UCI’s Mario Zorzoli — could approve a TUE.
“Just by a letter of support from the doctor, then it was not so difficult to get the TUE, which is something completely different now,” Lappartient said. “You have to put this in the context of the time. The grey zone was too big, and it seemed that this grey zone has been used by Team Sky at the time so, is it doping? Is it just using the rules? That is why the MP’s report just says they were not breaching the rules.”
When asked directly whether Sky had crossed an ethical line, as stated in the MP’s report, Lappartient was matter-of-fact.
“It’s in the report, what I can read, you can see that substances were used not for health problems or with strong pain but to increase your performances, then yes, that is something unacceptable for me and the philosophy we have, even if it seems there is no breach, no violation of the rules,” he said.
The BBC also asked Lappartient whether he thinks Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford should resign. “He has to take the decision he needs to take, and I see the pressure,” Lappartient said. Further, he was asked whether the UCI fears that Team Sky may fold. “That could be the case but … we don’t want to lose one of the strongest teams in the world, and the strongest in Great Britain,” the UCI president said.
Lappartient repeated his call for a quick resolution to the salbutamol case of Chris Froome, which remains in limbo. Froome returned an adverse analytical finding for salbutamol —twice the legal limit — at the Vuelta a Espana last fall. He continues to race as his case is adjudicated.
“I’m not sure we can have a decision before May’s Giro d’Italia. I hope we can have it at least before the Tour de France in July. Because, can you imagine if he’s riding the Giro, with spectators crying against him, or if at the end he’s disqualified from the Giro? That’s something difficult for our sport.”