Cycling: Sky is falling for Wiggins, boss Brailsford over 'package'

Bradley Wiggins shot to fame after becoming the first Briton to win the Tour de France in 2012. However, recent leaks of his three therapeutic use exemptions have put a dent on his clean reputation.
Bradley Wiggins shot to fame after becoming the first Briton to win the Tour de France in 2012. However, recent leaks of his three therapeutic use exemptions have put a dent on his clean reputation.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • The curious case of a package containing "a medical substance", the courier Simon Cope, Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins, his doctor Richard Freeman, and just where the Team Sky bus was on the night the 2011 Criterium du Dauphine ended, raises serious questions for the parties involved.

And this is on top of the rash of questions and inconsistencies that have come to light since the Fancy Bears hacking team put Wiggins' therapeutic use exemption (TUE) forms into the public domain.

Here is what is known so far:

On June 12, 2011, the final stage of the Criterium du Dauphine travelled from Pontcharra to La Toussuire in the Rhone Alpes. It was a little over 112km, and Wiggins secured victory with his 10th-place finish.

It was Team Sky's biggest victory as an elite racing team then. For Wiggins, it was another step along the road that would end in him winning the following year's Tour de France.

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  • British cyclist Bradley Wiggins was granted three therapeutic use exemptions for the Tour de France in 2011 and 2012, and again for the Giro d'Italia in 2013.

That same day, Cope, a cycling coach for the Britain women's team based in Manchester, flew to Geneva, hired a car and travelled to La Toussuire to visit Team Sky.

According to the Daily Mail, Cope was carrying a medical product he had been asked to deliver to the team. It was alleged that after his arrival, Wiggins had a private consultation with Freeman at the back of the team coach.

When asked what happened on that Sunday afternoon, Dave Brailsford said Freeman could not have treated Wiggins after the race because the team coach would have departed by the time the cyclist was done with his post-race protocols.

The Sky general manager's explanation did not add up. On the final day of a race, the team bus hangs around because riders are dispersing in different directions and there is no hotel to go to. In any case, a video clip has emerged of Wiggins doing an interview in the team bus after the race on Sunday afternoon.

Brailsford suggested Cope had gone to France to see British rider Emma Pooley, but she was more than 1,000km away in Spain.

In offering explanations that were not credible, Brailsford added to the intrigue surrounding Cope's visit.

Sources at Team Sky insist that Cope's package contained nothing untoward. That may be the case, but why could Brailsford or someone at Team Sky not explain the reason for Cope to travel from Manchester to La Toussuire with a medical product?

What was the medical product? Who authorised Cope's visit and why could the product not have been bought in a French pharmacy?

There are many reasons why Brailsford needed to explain the reason for Cope's visit, not least the cloud of suspicion that still surrounds the sport long after the Lance Armstrong doping disgrace.

Brailsford has had ample opportunity to explain what was going on but, so far, there has been nothing that makes sense.

There is an irony in Cope's visit to Team Sky, the same irony found in the case of Wiggins' three TUEs in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

It is this: Team Sky came into a sport that had a notorious reputation for illicit use of prohibited substances, albeit they arrived at a time when professional cycling seemed intent on fighting doping.

In the past month, Sky, their boss Brailsford and their first Tour de France winner Wiggins have suffered reputational damage. The irony is that the difficulties have arisen from relationships with people at British Cycling. The problem has come from within.

Riders at Team Sky say that in their experience, it is unheard of for a British Cycling coach to travel from England to Europe with a medical product.

There is also incredulity at the idea of Cope, a non-medical person, breaking French law by taking a banned product into the country. They do not believe that happened.

There is a belief that, whatever the product was, it was something familiar between Wiggins and the doctor who worked most closely with him - Freeman.

The presumption is that Brailsford would have had to have known why Cope was travelling from England with a package, as it was at Team Sky's behest that the coach made the journey. Cope now works for Wiggins' cycling team.

Many inside the team question how much Shane Sutton knew about what was happening. He worked with British Cycling and Team Sky in 2010 and 2011, and worked closely with Wiggins.

After 2011, he focused on his role with Britain's track team in Manchester. A number of people inside Team Sky have wondered how he continued to have use of a Team Sky car and remained on the payroll after he had left Team Sky.

Jonathan Tiernan-Locke, a former Sky rider who was banned for two years following anomalies in his biological passport, added to the unanswered questions by alleging in a BBC interview that the painkiller Tramadol was made available by a member of the medical staff to Britain's road racing team at the 2012 World Championships road race won by Mark Cavendish.

Tramadol is legal but many medical and anti-doping personnel disapprove of its use in sport. Team Sky's former doctor, Alan Farrell, was against its use and did much to dissuade their riders from using it.

But within the peloton, Tramadol has been widely used. Tiernan-Locke also told the BBC that he thought Wiggins' use of TUEs was suspicious and that is a view shared by most.

Brailsford still has much explaining to do, and unless he starts coming up with credible answers, it is difficult to see how he can remain as leader of the world's No. 1 cycling team. So far, he has been like the man who wants to go to heaven but has only been digging holes.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2016, with the headline 'Sky is falling for Wiggins, boss Brailsford over 'package''. Subscribe