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Explainer: Sky’s mysterious jiffy bag

FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — The U.K. Anti-Doping Agency (UKAD) closed the case examining Sky and former Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins on Wednesday, and left everyone wondering about the contents of the jiffy bag that kicked off the entire mess.

British Cycling, the multi-million dollar WorldTour Team Sky, and Wiggins all issued statements in the last 24 hours explaining their relief that the case is closed. The way it was closed, however, left fans as confused as they were when it began 14 months prior.

With so many questions, VeloNews examines the questions surrounding the jiffy bag, the investigation, and cycling’s super-team.

What is a jiffy bag?

The British use the term to refer to a padded shipping envelope. Simon Cope delivered the jiffy bag on June 12, 2011, from London to Geneva, and over the border into France at La Toussuire where Wiggins had just won an important pre-Tour de France tune-up race, the Critérium du Dauphiné. With the UKAD case closed inconclusively, mystery still shrouds the jiffy bag package, its contents, and delivery.

Who is Simon Cope?

Recently he has been managing a women’s team, but at the time he worked for British Cycling. Sky’s doctor David Freeman asked him to deliver the jiffy bag at the last minute to the French Alps. The story emerged October 6, 2016 – six years later – in British newspaper The Daily Mail thanks to journalist Matt Lawton. It came at the worst time, on the heels of a row over sexism within British Cycling and hacking revelations. Russian hacker Fancy Bears released medical files on Olympic athletes that showed Wiggins, citing asthma problems, had requested and received permission to inject triamcinolone, a corticosteroid, ahead of the 2011 and 2012 Tours, and 2013 Giro d’Italia.

What is triamcinolone?

It is a powerful drug for asthma suffers that can also increase performance, which is why the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) requires a certificate or therapeutic use exemption (TUE) to use it in or ahead of competition. Former professional David Millar said, “I took EPO and testosterone patches, Kenacort [triamcinolone] though was the only one you took and three days later you looked different. 1.5-2kgs would drop off in like a week. And not only would the weight drop off I would feel stronger.”

Is that what was in the jiffy bag?

We still do not know. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) was able to lasso Lance Armstrong’s former teammates and get confessions that led to his lifetime ban, but the UKAD failed during its big fishing expedition. Some rumored it was triamcinolone in the package. Had Wiggins taken it from doctor David Freeman before midnight on the final day of the Dauphiné, he could have faced a ban since he did not have a medical certificate.

What was Brailsford’s explanation?

He said many things. He first said that Cope had traveled to visit cyclist Emma Pooley and not Sky, a story quickly proven wrong when Pooley said she was in Spain at the time. He also said that Wiggins and Freeman could not have been together on the bus after the final Dauphiné stage in La Toussuire as claimed since that bus had already left, but post-race video footage emerged to prove him wrong. After weeks passed, Team Sky said decongestant Fluimucil was in the package. But why would Cope travel 700 miles to deliver a product you can buy for €8 in a French pharmacy? Before the Fluimucil explanation, Brailsford tried to persuade The Daily Mail to bury the story while the UKAD confirmed that it met “resistance” along its path.

Surely Freeman would know?

Yes, but he missed the parliamentary sessions because he was unwell. His illness led to nine months of silence. Instead, he sent in written testimony. In its investigation, the UKAD discovered he had not uploaded medical files to a central server and that thieves stole the computer with the files in question while he was on vacation. It is a black hole on a treasure map where X marks the spot.

Why not just take their word for it, that a decongestant was delivered?

Sky began in 2010 by saying it would not operate in the grey areas of doping, instead it would respect a clear line between right and wrong. The Russian hacker Fancy Bears, however, showed a series of dashes and dots instead of a solid and straight line. Wiggins insisted he never used needles, but the files showed otherwise, even if it was for a drug permitted by a medical certificate.

What is wrong with the UKAD closing the investigation with such findings?

It neither cleared nor pardoned Wiggins and those involved. It also sends a troubling message that future cases could never come under investigation or might be closed similarly if evidence disappears. The agency would think twice before it spends a significant chunk its budget on another case. And the agency’s funding requests could be questioned when federal budgets are created, given its lack of effectiveness in the jiffy bag case.

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