Sir Dave Brailsford has insisted that “there will not be a whistleblower at Team Sky” because there is no “covert doping programme” there. His comments were made as it emerged that the UCI WorldTour outfit had told MPs investigating doping in sport that its former doctor had bought Fluimucil – the drug at the centre of the controversy surrounding the 2011 Criterium du Dauphiné – two months before that race at a pharmacy in Switzerland, 160 miles away.
Brailsford has claimed that a package delivered to former Team Sky doctor Richard Freeman contained the decongestant, which is not banned, and was administered to Sir Bradley Wiggins, who had just won the week-long French race.
Speaking to Matthew Syed of The Times earlier this week, Brailsford acknowledged that if anti-doping rules had been broken, the truth would come out eventually, but insisted there was no possibility of someone within the team blowing the whistle on any supposed institutionalised use of performance enhancing drugs.
In his article, Syed said he believes "that Team Sky has not committed anti-doping violations, with the possible exception of Wiggins," although he acknowledged that recent revelations had shaken his confidence.
Brailsford told him: “There will not be a whistleblower. We may have been poor at keeping medical records, we may have made errors in process, but I would put my life on the fact there has not been some covert doping programme.”
While that may be true, to anyone who has followed the story of the Jiffy Bag at the heart of the controversy from the beginning, it's clear that someone within Team Sky did feel strongly enough about whatever was in the package to go public with their concerns.
The story was broken in October by the Daily Mail's chief sports reporter, Matt Lawton, who cited his source as a "Team Sky insider" with the journalist writing that it was claimed that "Wiggins and Freeman were seen going into the treatment room of the bus after Wiggins had completed his post-race duties."
Yesterday, the House of Commons Select Committee for Culture, Media and Sport made public a letter sent by Team Sky to the MP who chairs it after he had sought clarification on comments made by Brailsford about the package delivered to the team’s former doctor at the 2011 Dauphiné.
Brailsford confirmed to the select committee when he gave evidence before it in December that the package was taken to the French Alps, via Geneva on a day trip from London Gatwick, by Simon Cope, at the time the manager of the Great Britain women’s road team, and delivered to Freeman.
Team Sky has now responded to Collins’ letter, with the exchange of correspondence published yesterday evening on the section of the UK Parliament’s website dedicated to the select committee’s investigation.
The MP’s letter in response to Brailsford raised a number of questions, but Team Sky’s response seems to raise some issues that need further clarification.
Here is a summary.
Collins pointed out the ease of using a Dropbox account “to provide a backup copy of important documents” and queried why “Team Sky did not ask for a copy of Dr Freeman’s medical records for Sir Bradley Wiggins to be uploaded to the Dropbox folder.”
Team Sky said it had a written policy in place regarding Dropbox usage, and that it “trained its doctors on how to comply with that policy,” but acknowledged that “Dr Freeman struggled with his use of” the cloud-based storage system, which it said “was never intended to supplant each doctor’s own record-keeping practices, as mandated by their local regulator” (in this case, the General Medical Council).
It says that it has taken steps to ensure compliance with procedures – appointing a full-time compliance officer in 2013 – but the question remains, how did the records relating to Wiggins – its star rider in 2011, heading to that year’s Tour de France as one of the favourites – slip through the net?
Purchase of Fluimucil abroad
Team Sky had confirmed that in April 2011, Freeman bought Fluimucil from a pharmacy in Yverdon, Switzerland, a country where he had prescription rights, as he also did in Germany, where the team said he usually sourced the drug. Collins questioned why the team’s doctors did not appear to have prescription rights in France.
The team said it “had nine doctors from a number of different countries in the 2011 season. While some of those may have had prescription rights in France, Dr Freeman – amongst others – did not believe that he did,” and that he was the only doctor present at the 2011 Dauphiné.
It added that “the issue of prescription rights would have made no difference with respect to the events of 12 June 2011 since the particular form of Fluimucil (i.e. 3ml, 10% ampoule form for use in a nebulizer) that Team Sky uses and that Dr Freeman needed is not – to Team Sky’s knowledge – available for sale in France.”
But the bigger issue, perhaps, is why Cope brought Fluimucil to the French Alps at a cost of several hundred pounds (documented by expenses receipts previously published by the select committee), when Freeman knew it was available a three-hour drive away in Switzerland – and in the 3ml 10% ampoules, as confirmed by Team Sky itself in relation to the 2011 purchase.
Given that the medicine was administered after the race ended, that also raises the question of why it was needed so urgently.
Medical notes of individual riders
Collins asked Team Sky to confirm which riders’ medical notes, besides those of Wiggins, had not been uploaded by Freeman.
The team said it “cannot provide the names of individual riders” and that it would not “be fair to put the spotlight on any rider simply because of an administrative oversight by a doctor,” and stressed that “the absence of a medical note in Dropbox does not mean that there is no record of the treatment … It simply means that a record was not also uploaded to Dropbox, in addition to the record that Dr Freeman was required to keep as per GMC requirements and as per his own record-keeping practices.”
The problem there is that Freeman’s own notes seem to have disappeared, with the doctor claiming that they were kept on a laptop that was stolen while he was on holiday in Greece in 2014.
The select committee chair asked Team Sky how many of the 55 ampoules of triamcinolone it ordered from 2010-13 were administered to its riders, and how many riders were involved.
Again citing patient confidentiality, the team said that based on its “shared medical records, less than 10 ampoules of Triamcinolone were administered to Team Sky riders in the four years between 2010 to 2013.”
At least three of those are known to have been administered to Wiggins under therapeautic use exemptions, and Team Sky repeated its assertion that “we would only ever allow Triamcinolone to be provided as a legitimate and justified medical treatment in accordance with the applicable anti-doping rules.”
But that does beg the question of why such a large quantity was ordered in the first place, something that UK Anti-doping chief executive Nicole Sapstead expressed serious concerns about when testifying before the select committee earlier this month.
The final issue on which Collins sought clarification from Team Sky related to the controversial painkiller Tramadol, which is not banned but which teams belonging to the Movement for Crdible Cycling (MPCC) – whose members do not include Sky – have made a collective decision not to use. He asked whether Team Sky kept records relating to the drug, as well as a summary of its usage.
The team said that “If required, Team Sky doctors are able to use Tramadol for pain management of certain injuries (e.g. fractures or severe skin loss) in accordance with the team’s analgesics ladder policy.
“As with any other medical treatment, Team Sky doctors would be required to keep records of which riders (if any) have been treated with Tramadol, the reason for the treatment and the dosages recommended,” it added.
Again, that raises the question of whether the team has a full record of its usage, given its acknowledgment of the difficulties Freeman had in using Dropbox and the loss of his laptop.
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.