Sir Bradley Wiggins says that the stress brought on by the storm resulting from the revelation by Russian hackers that he had raced while using otherwise banned drugs under Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs) “nearly killed” his wife Cath.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Guardian’s Donald McRae, the five-time Olympic champion and 2012 Tour de France winner also repeated a claim he had made before, namely that he would have “had more rights” had he murdered someone, a reaction to what he believes was a “trial by media.”
The 38-year-old also hit out at with the man who was ultimately behind much of his success, Team Sky principal and former British Cycling performance director Sir Dave Brailsford, and said he is regularly in touch with disgraced former professional cyclist, Lance Armstrong.
Details of TUEs granted to Wiggins ahead of three key races – the 2011 and 2012 editions of the Tour de France, and the 2013 Giro d’Italia – were published by the Fancy Bears hacking group in October 2016, shortly after Wiggins had won his fifth career Olympic gold medal in the team pursuit at Rio.
They permitted him to use the corticosteroid triamcinolone to treat his hay fever, although the drug also has performance-enhancing qualities, allowing an athlete to quickly shed weight while not sacrificing power.
While its use under a TUE was within the rules, there was further controversy surrounding the Jiffy Bag delivered to Team Sky doctor Richard Freeman immediately after Wiggins won the 2011 Criterium du Dauphiné, the package and its contents becoming the subject of both a parliamentary enquiry and a UK Anti-doping investigation.
Wiggins told McRae of the way that the Fancy Bears disclosures and Jiffy Bag controversy had impacted his family, and of how he feels he has been unfairly portrayed in the media.
“People have free rein to put their own facts in place,” he said. “Kids read headlines and their parents say things about you. You end up saying to your kids: ‘Just tell them to fucking do one.’ They do and it’s your kids in trouble.
“Then the BBC show up on your doorstep and you can’t take your kids to school. You tell the BBC, ‘I can’t talk to you, because there’s an investigation.’ They just want to know about the packages. The whole thing becomes an uncontrolled trial by media. In any other court it would be thrown out because the media have skewed the facts.
“You watch your family suffer, and it’s terrible. It nearly killed my wife [Cath]. She ended up in rehab over it. I’m at home having to deal with it. Because she’s bi-polar she has this fear of shame, people watching her all the time. You couldn’t say that at the time because you’ve asked for it, because you’ve won the Tour de France. No, I didn’t ask for that actually. I only asked for a fair trial.”
Wiggins said that his wife is “Really good now. She’s moving on.” He continued: “What I should have done is murder someone because then I’d have had proper rights. I’d have had more rights as a murderer.
“There’d have been no articles and I’d have had a fair trial. I’d have been cleared or found guilty. Not somewhere in the middle where you can’t find any evidence of wrongdoing.”
He agreed that the episode had put a question mark over his name. “Yeah. I understand that not everyone’s going to like you. I don’t like everyone. It’s made me be myself more and say what I think.”
Many would say that it is Wiggins’ propensity to tell it how he sees it that often sees him become the subject of negative headlines, exemplified in recent days by his assertion in his new book Icons that Armstrong embodied the “perfect winner” of the Tour de France idealised by the race’s founder, Henri Desgrange.
The American is far from the only cyclist highlighted in the book who has either been suspected of doping or confessed to it – as, McRae points out, Wiggins’ boyhood hero Johan Museeuw did – but it is the chapter devoted to the man stripped of seven Tour de France titles shortly after Wiggins won his own yellow jersey that has attracted the greatest furore.
Asked if he is close to Armstrong – whose ban and disqualification from results after his return to the sport from cancer led to Wiggins being awarded third place at the 2009 Tour de France – he said: “Not in terms of being really friendly but we have mutual respect. I talk to him fairly regularly.”
When it was put to Wiggins whether Armstrong has “suffered more” than other drug cheats, Wiggins’ response is typically ambivalent. “Perhaps not. I don’t think he’s suffered enough. But in other ways he has,” he says, citing the fact that the Texan was unable to join him in riding the Hincapie Gran Findo last month, since it is sanctioned by US Cycling.
“It’s harsh that he can’t ride around the back of a group with his mates,” he said. “He’s 47, he’s not going to try to win a Scott bike at Gran Fondo. In terms of coming back to the sport, a life ban is fair enough but banning him across the board is too much.”
He was unequivocal, however, when it came to his thoughts on Brailsford, especially concerning the way that Sean Yates – his sports director when Wiggins won the Tour de France, and a former team-mate of Armstrong at Motorola – departed Team Sky in the immediate wake of the latter’s ban.
“They said his health was the reason but they got rid of him because of the association with Lance,” he insisted. “That’s typical Dave and Sky. As long as it looks good on paper, fuck what it’s actually like behind the scenes.”
Back to the storm over TUEs and the Jiffy Bag – UKAD concluded that it was impossible to prove its contents, meaning the case could not be taken forward, while the House of Commons Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport concluded that Sky had “crossed an ethical line” in obtaining TUEs – Wiggins said: “There’s a lot more going on than I alluded to this summer,” when he insisted there was a “very sinister” side to the episode.
“I can’t prove any of it yet,” he said. “It might take five years and, in the interim, I’m carrying on with my life.”
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.