LONDON • Bradley Wiggins has broken his silence surrounding the use of powerful banned substances taken with permission for medical reasons before some of his biggest races, insisting that he never sought to gain an unfair advantage.
The under-fire cyclist, the first Briton to win the Tour de France, was one of dozens of athletes who had their anti-doping records leaked by the hacking group Fancy Bears. The group is believed to be linked to Russia and seeking revenge for the state-sponsored doping revelations there.
In an interview to be broadcast on yesterday's Andrew Marr Show on BBC1, Wiggins denied seeking an unfair advantage. The Briton insisted he was suffering from breathing issues in the run-up to his Tour de France triumph in 2012 that required treatment.
His use of therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) in 2011, 2012 and 2013 before his biggest race of those seasons has come under scrutiny. In particular, the spotlight has fallen on his injections of the powerful corticosteroid triamcinolone before his Tour win.
The former cyclist Jorg Jaksche has accused Team Sky of hypocrisy, saying the way Wiggins used the drug was consistent with its abuse in cycling's darkest days.
USING STEROIDS TO QUELL ASTHMA
This was to cure a medical condition. This wasn't about trying to find a way to gain an unfair advantage, this was about putting myself back on a level playing field in order to compete at the highest level.
BRADLEY WIGGINS, British cyclist, defending his use of the corticosteroid triamcinolone before his Tour de France win.
On Friday's Newsnight, Prentice Steffen, the doctor at Wiggins' former team, Garmin Slipstream, said he was surprised that such an intervention was required. On Saturday Dutch rider Tom Dumoulin told the newspaper De Limburger he thought the episode "stinks".
But Wiggins told Marr that, although it was not mentioned in his autobiography My Time, he struggled with breathing problems in the run-up to the 2012 Tour and the prescription was an attempt to alleviate the symptoms before the Tour.
TOO MUCH OF A COINCIDENCE
You do have to think it is kind of coincidental that a big dose of intramuscular long-acting corticosteroids would be needed at that exact time before the most important race of the season.
PRENTICE STEFFEN, doctor for Wiggins' former cycling team Garmin Slipstream, on the cyclist's TUE use when with Team Sky.
"It was prescribed for allergies and respiratory problems," he said. "I've been a lifelong sufferer of asthma and I went to my team doctor at the time and we went to a specialist to see if there's anything else we could do to cure these problems. And he in turn said: 'Yeah, there's something you can do but you're going to need authorisation from cycling's governing body (UCI).'"
The 36-year-old, who will retire at the end of the season, said he needed evidence from a specialist which was then scrutinised by three independent doctors as part of the process.
"This was to cure a medical condition. This wasn't about trying to find a way to gain an unfair advantage, this was about putting myself back on a level playing field in order to compete at the highest level," he told Marr.
Wiggins also sought to explain the apparent contradiction between comments in his 2012 book in which he described the culture at Team Sky and the injections for which he had received TUEs.
"British Cycling have always had a no-needle policy, it's been a mainstay of theirs; so it's something I've grown up with as a bike rider," he wrote in My Time, written in partnership with the Observer's cycling correspondent William Fotheringham. "In British cycling culture, at the word 'needle' - or the sight of one - you go: 'Oh s***.' It's a complete taboo."
But in an answer that may raise eyebrows, he told Marr that he was referring to needles used for doping rather than for medical purposes and that the passage should be seen in that context.
Wiggins said: "It was always a loaded question with regards to doping. Intravenous injections of iron, EPO et cetera, no one ever asked the question: 'Have you ever had an injection by a medical professional to treat or cure a medical condition?' There are two sides to that, and at that period of time it was very much with a doping emphasis in the question."
Referring to My Time, Wiggins added: "I wasn't writing the book, I was writing it with a cycling journalist who's very knowledgeable on the sport and had lived through the whole era of the Lance Armstrong era and the doping era."
Marr then asked Wiggins whether he therefore took questions on needles to refer to doping.
"All the questions at that time were very much loaded towards doping," said the 36-year-old.
While Team Sky acted within the rules, questions have been asked about the timing of the TUEs and the fact that the 2012 application appeared to be preventative rather than to treat an existing condition.
Steffen, Wiggins' team doctor when the cyclist finished fourth in the 2009 Tour de France, told Newsnight: "You do have to think it is kind of coincidental that a big dose of intramuscular long-acting corticosteroids would be needed at that exact time before the most important race of the season. I would say certainly now in retrospect it doesn't look good, it doesn't look right from a health or sporting perspective."