Team Sky are one of the richest and most successful cycling teams in the world, and they’ve billed themselves as a completely clean cycling team—everybody on the team has to sign an agreement that they’ve never been involved in doping—the sort of squad that shows that riders can win without doping. Sky riders have won four of the past five editions of the Tours de France, and they look as strong as any stage racing team has since USPS-era Lance teams. But it increasingly looks like their anti-doping posture is just that, a posture.
Records released last September by Russian military-linked hackers revealed Team Sky’s first Tour de France Winner, Bradley Wiggins, had received a number of undisclosed TUEs (therapeutic use exemptions) for corticosteroids, ostensibly to deal with a pollen allergy. There is also suspicion about the contents of a mystery package an agent of British Cycling flew to Wiggins at the 2011 Criterium du Dauphine. Sky and British Cycling officials initially claimed that the bag was delivered to Emma Pooley, even though she was off in Spain at the time. David Brailsford, the general manager of Team Sky, won’t say what was in the bag.
The House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee held a cycling anti-doping hearing today, and Team Sky came out of it looking even worse. United Kingdom Anti-Doping Agency chief Nicole Sapstead said that she met resistance from both British Cycling and Team Sky when trying to investigate their practices, to the point that General Medical Council, the UK medical regulator, might need to get involved. UKAD found that Sky had been incredibly negligent with their record keeping, and Sky doctor Richard Freeman, who received the package from British Cycling and treated Wiggins before the 2011 Dauphine, told UKAD that his laptop containing most of his records (which he’d conveniently forgotten to upload to Dropbox) was stolen in 2014 in Greece. Sapstead said that Interpol had been thus far unable to confirm the theft, and Freeman missed the hearing with an illness.
Brailsford claimed in December that the package contained an over-the-counter nasal decongestant. However, Sapstead said that there were no records for any of the decongestant, while there were invoices for more triamcinolone than Wiggins would have been allowed under his TUE. The courier denied any responsibility, and placed all of it back on Dr. Freeman.
The UKAD didn’t find hard and fast evidence of a conspiracy or tampering, but that’s usually how these things go, and there is more than enough reason to be suspicious of anything Brailsford, British Cycling, and Team Sky say. The evidence, such that it even exists, points towards a dishonest and unaccountable organizational structure. Wiggins is retired from road racing, but he won’t be out of the spotlight for a while.