Bradley Wiggins, just a month ago the golden child of Great Britain’s cycling dominance, certainly won’t be enjoying the feel-good farewell that he was hoping for at the London Six Day that starts Tuesday.
In what’s his final professional appearance in the UK, Great Britain’s first Tour de France winner has been under growing media scrutiny since the Fancy Bears hack last month. Wiggins’s and Team Sky’s reputation and legacy have come under fire.
At the center of the controversy are three TUEs (therapeutic use exemptions) that Wiggins employed to inject the powerful corticosteroid called triamcinolone acetonide (Kenacort) ahead of the 2011 and 2012 Tours de France and the 2013 Giro d’Italia. Wiggins and Sky did not break any rules, but the hack provided a rare, behind-the-scenes look at how Wiggins managed his preparation ahead of the history-making Tour. And it has tainted his image just as he winds up his racing career following a fifth gold medal this summer at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
The story has been broiling in the United Kingdom, and the same UK media that helped build up Wiggins into a national hero has been hammering him hard over the past several weeks.
London’s Fleet Street has been piling on Wiggins and Sky (including a recent story over whereabouts), and this week’s Six Day race in London will surely see a pack of headline-hungry journalists descend on the velodrome chasing a very different kind of story.
Perhaps wary of unwanted media attention, Wiggins canceled an appearance at the Abu Dhabi Tour last week and also did not attend a pre-race media event ahead of the London Six Day.
The event coincides just as the UK Anti-Doping agency has opened an investigation over delivery of a “medical package” during the 2011 Tour. Efforts by Wiggins and Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford to quell the growing scandal seemed to have backfired. Others have questioned Wiggins over the TUE scandal, including former teammate Chris Froome and fellow Olympic hero Chris Hoy, who told the BBC last week, “I think he has to answer questions, otherwise there will always be a question mark hanging over him.”
Last week, ex-pro David Millar wrote an extensive article in The New York Times outlining his personal use of Kenacort, titled “How to Get Away with Doping.” Millar chronicled his use of the banned corticoid (allowed to be used with a TUE), saying how it helped him shed weight ahead of important races.
“Kenacort was a once-a-year drug; the stress it put on your body required time to recover,” Millar wrote. “The three times I took Kenacort were also the times I was the lightest I’d been in my career, yet I didn’t lose power … I looked like a machine, muscle fibers were visible, and a road map of veins crisscrossed my entire body.”
The London Six Day event — as well as a final appearance in Gent next month, where he will appear with Madison partner Mark Cavendish in both races — was supposed to be an exclamation point at the end of Wiggins’s extraordinary career. Instead, there’s potential it could turn into a media circus, leaving the Wiggins legacy with a permanent stain.
That’s hardly the kind of finale Wiggins wanted to script. Just a few weeks ago, in the wake of Rio after winning a record eighth Olympic medal, Wiggins was flying high. He wanted this pair of six-day events to bookend his incredible career on the road and track. Instead, that legacy could be unraveling for good as the TUEs, though legal, look to have all the signs of gaming the system.