The journalist who broke the story about a package delivered to Team Sky at the 2011 Critérium du Dauphiné that contained medicine destined for Sir Bradley Wiggins says that team principal Sir Dave Brailsford tried to get him to kill the report.
The Daily Mail’s chief sports reporter, Matt Lawton, also claims Brailsford raised the possibility of him instead being offered another story relating to a rival team winning races with the help of Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs).
Meanwhile, David Walsh, the Sunday Times chief sports reporter who helped bring down Lance Armstrong, has said on Twitter that the answers given to MPs by Brailsford and others yesterday (full video here) smacked of a “massive cover-up.”
He said Lawton’s latest allegations against Brailsford were “not so much a game changer as a game ender” for the Team Sky boss.
Lawton had already broken another of the biggest cycling stories of 2016 – former world champion Lizzie Armitstead’s missed drugs tests – when he met Brailsford in late September as he prepared to reveal details of the package delivered to Team Sky in 2011.
In the preceding weeks, hackers who had accessed the World Anti-Doping Agency database had published details of TUEs issued to Wiggins ahead of the 2011 and 2012 editions of the Tour de France – he won the latter – and the 2013 Giro d’Italia.
The journalist says in an article published yesterday evening that at his meeting with Brailsford, the Team Sky principal asked him: “If you didn't write the story, is there anything else that could be done?”
He said that Brailsford was worried that the story could mean “the end of Team Sky,” which when it launched in 2010 insisted it would race clean but which has come under intense scrutiny in recent months especially following the revelations about TUEs and the Dauphiné package.
Lawton said: “First came the offer of an alternative, more positive story. Then possibly a story about a rival team winning races with Therapeutic Use Exemptions – something he did not reveal in the end.”
He made the claim at the end of a day in which Brailsford, Shane Sutton, British Cycling President Bob Howden and Dr George Gilbert, who sits on the governing body’s board and chairs its Ethics Commission, in front of a Parliamentary Committee to be quizzed about doping.
After Howden and Gilbert had repeatedly claimed to MPs that they were gagged by UK Anti-Doping from talking about the package while insisting they knew nothing of the contents, Sutton confirmed it did contain medicine, with Brailsford later saying it was a decongestant called Fluimucil.
Walsh, who has been embedded with Team Sky, something that has seen him come under intense criticism from his former Sunday Times colleague Paul Kimmage, said on Twitter: “My impression from listening to Dave Brailsford and Shane Sutton at Select Committee today is that we're being subjected to massive cover-up.”
He added that if the package did indeed contain Fluimucil, why had it taken almost three months for that to emerge given that Lawton quizzed Brailsford about it in September.
“Two months ago I said in Sunday Times only way for Team Sky to move forward was without Dave Brailsford,” Walsh went on. “I believe that now more than ever.”
Those tweets were posted before Walsh saw Lawton’s latest claims against Brailsford, which he described as “not so much a game changer as a game ender.”
Questions are already being raised as to whether the episode may result in Sky, whose longstanding sponsorship of British Cycling finishes at the end of the month, pulling the plug on its financial backing of the WorldTour team.
Meanwhile, British Cycling, which earlier this month learnt that its funding for the next Olympic cycle would be cut by £4 million, has reportedly been warned by UK Sport that it could lose its funding altogether depending on the results of an investigation into its governance.
That probe was ordered in April following the allegations of bullying and discrimination against Sutton and other staff made by riders including track sprinter Jess Varnish and Paralympic gold medallist Darren Kenny.
In a year that saw Team Sky win its fourth Tour de France in five years, and Team GB dominate the track events for a third Olympic Games in a row, the ongoing controversies – including the UKAD investigation – must raise serious doubts about whether those successes can be repeated in future.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.