Dave Brailsford stood by Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins and the Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) system in his first press appearance since the Fancy Bears hacking group released medical documents from two of his star riders.
While stating unequivocally that Wiggins’s TUEs were legitimate, Brailsford also said that all future Team Sky TUEs may be made public.
“What I can tell everybody is that we’re doing it the right way. It is a 100% clean operation,” Brailsford said to Sky News. “We always look at the right thing to do, and have policies and processes to make sure we perform in the right way and people can believe in us.”
Brailsford, who remained completely silent on the subject until his Sky News interview, pointed to the system of checks in place to prevent abuse and suggested that the process had to be trusted. He also deflected some responsibility for the TUEs away from himself and his organization and onto the UCI.
“I didn’t have the right to approve any TUE,” he said. “I think what we’ve got to remember is that the only people who can approve a TUE are the doping authorities.”
Brailsford explained that in Wiggins’s case, as in all TUE cases at Sky, the concern began with the rider. Team doctor Richard Freeman was called in, and then an ENT specialist, Simon Hargreaves, who recommended the injectable triamcinolone. The TUE was then placed before the UCI’s doctor, Mario Zorzoli, who approved the treatment.
“If it’s a suspicious pattern of TUEs, I’d go back to the TUE authority. ‘Why did you grant it?’” he said. “You have to have trust and integrity in your people. If you are suggesting I should have suspicions or go back and look at the intent of what’s going on, I have to have trust and integrity in the process and in the UCI who grant it.”
Wiggins spoke out on the BBC over the weekend, explaining that he has been a life-long sufferer of asthma, and the medication was recommended by a Hargreaves.
“You have to show and provide evidence from a specialist that they will then scrutinise with three independent doctors and authorize you to take this product. If one of those three doctors says no, you get declined,” Wiggins said.
Any notion of systematic abuse of the TUE system by Team Sky was soundly rejected by Brailsford.
“We have won many, many races, big races without TUEs. So this whole notion of needing a TUE to perform, or some systematic abuse of the system, is unfounded,” Brailsford said. “And if you want to do something as challenging as what we’re trying to do, with the past this sport has, there are going to be challenges along the way. Times like now are when you have to keep fighting. To make sure our riders are more transparent and our processes are more robust. Because it’s more important than ever.”
Wiggins and Team Sky have been under fire since the Fancy Bears group released three Wiggins TUEs for triamcinolone, a powerful corticosteroid that can be used to treat asthma and other respiratory ailments but also has well-documented performance enhancement benefits, including weight loss. The three TUEs were approved right before the 2011 and 2012 Tour de France and 2013 Giro d’Italia. Wiggins won the 2012 Tour.
Chris Froome had two TUE documents made public as well, but both TUEs were previously known. Wiggins has been the focus of debate due to the timing of his TUE applications — just before major races — and the strength of the drug with which he was injected.
Former riders, including Michael Rasmussen and Jorg Jaksche, both of whom ran afoul of doping rules during their career, have stated that triamcinolone was frequently abused within the pro peloton in the past. Lance Armstrong received a backdated TUE for the drug in the 1999 Tour de France.
Wiggins broke no rules. He received the TUEs through the UCI’s normal system. Both of his TUEs were approved by the UCI’s former medical coordinator Mario Zorzoli. The TUEs have nonetheless resulted in a crisis of confidence in Great Britain’s first Tour de France winner, and the team behind him.
To further increase this transparency, Brailsford indicated that he would open to making all this team’s future TUEs public.
“We’ve reviewed this over the years and we’ve changed our policy, we’ve changed the way we do it and going forward I think we are going to take the next step which is being debated on a wider basis to look at, with the consent of the riders, making all TUEs transparent,” he said.