Crossing Lines

Pavilion & TourerIt never fails to astound me how many wheezing sickly asthmatics there are in the world of elite sport. And how many champions have overcome chronic obscure cardiovascular ailments whose names and symptoms take several pages of fine print to describe and which can be treated only with powerful doses of drugs of the sort that – were they used nefariously – would enable an ageing bull elephant to outrun – handily – a young female cheetah in her prime.

Perhaps this is why in my youth I was never sought after by the world’s talent-spotting coaches: I was simply too healthy.

I have followed with great interest the recent revelations – courtesy of the Russian hacking group Fancy Bears – of the therapeutic uses of a powerful corticosteroid by none other than Britain’s own Bradley Wiggins. It should be stressed of course, straight away, that there is no implication that he or his team (Sky) broke any rules. Far from it. He – they – applied for and received the relevant doctor’s notes and the official sanction for using these otherwise forbidden drugs. And used them. Three times. Just before the Tour de France (twice) and once just before the Giro d’Italia.

Legal, yes, but boy, they sure weren’t very forthcoming about it. Not a word did any of them  breathe about these TUEs (Therapeutic Use Exemptions) until their use of them splashed into the public domain, although they often crowed – or is it purred? – about their ‘no-needles policy’ and zero tolerance for doping.

The timing of these certificates and subsequent injections (just before major races), the choice of drug involved and the perception of secrecy around it all has raised eyebrows among physicians and fellow racers – including former doper and now anti-drug campaigner David Millar who used the very same drug (without sanction) during his drug-cheat career and described it as scary and the most powerful drug  he ever (ab)used.

According to Wiggins and Team Sky, he required this particular corticosteroid before each of these three major races to ease the symptoms of severe pollen allergies and asthma simply so he could breathe properly and race unimpeded – achieve ‘a level playing field’ as Wiggins put it in a very soft interview with David Marr on the BBC, an interview which then segued from these potentially uncomfortable topics into Wiggins thoughts on fashion and politics.

How interesting it is, then, to read in Wiggins’ autobiography My Time, how fit he claimed to be that summer – how he was at the top of his game, how wonderfully healthy he had been and missing almost no days in training as he prepared for the Tour de France. And yet now we hear he was suffering terribly. What a brave little soldier. Nary a mention of asthma, or pollen allergies.

He does mention needles in the book though – but only to say he never used them, no injections, ever, other than for vaccinations and occasionally having to be put on a drip when he became dehydrated.

With a belated attempt at sophistry that Bill and Hillary Clinton do much better, Wiggins has since explained that the book was ghost written and so the questionable passages in it were not really his responsibility and besides, the no injections bit meant that he had never injected drugs illegally. One suspects that given the uncomfortable passages in the book, and the eyebrows they raise, he may wish to rename it My Petard for future editions.

Again – Wiggins and Sky sought and received the necessary clearances for him to take the drugs. He broke no rules, but an odour of sharp practice has settled over him and his team and his accomplishments. Or as fellow racer Tom Dumoulin put it when he heard about it: this stinks.



  2 comments for “Crossing Lines

  1. Beverley
    September 29, 2016 at 6:12 am

    Both my girls have asthma, severe enough to have required hospitalisation on occasion, yet neither has ever been offered the drug given to these poor athletes. They must really be ill. One wonders how they manage to get on a bike at all. It is interesting that it seems to be athletes who have used a TUE in the past who now distrust the system (apart from Wiggo).

    On a lighter note, my favourite cycling story of the last couple of weeks has to be the cyclist who, during his regular ride, suddenly found himself at the head of the peloton during of the Tour of Britain, seemingly unaware of the reason for the cheering crowds. You’d think as an experienced and enthusiastic cyclist, he’d have known the Tour was coming through his village, and you’d think there would be barriers up, but the reason the story made me chuckle is that it sounds like the sort of thing I could do. I think I’d have milked the applause for a little longer!

  2. Harry Harrison
    October 16, 2016 at 9:40 am

    I am no apologist for the drugs cheats .. but. As you have put this ‘out there’ I feel like chucking in my two centimes.

    It’s not as simple as you state.

    The regime under which these riders live nowadays is far removed from the carefree life we (I) live. Firstly we eat exactly as we please, using; the utmost scrutiny, through some attention and vaguely applied red-lines to absolutely no attention whatsoever. A sure way to lose your racing licence. Every single thing that you eat or drink must be checked against a list if you race, we all know that, but have we really thought how that manifests itself in real life ? No snacks at the airport, no nibbles at get togethers with friends, dinners out – forget it.

    It is possible for me to source all manner of drugs over the counter at my village pharmacy, for good or bad intent. Sore throats, headaches, hay fever, common colds, indigestion and gravel rash all catered for. A a sure way to attract the attentions of WADA etc if you make your living in the saddle. Every medication must be approved and checked against a list, we know that, how about going to the doctor for a headache or a sniffle ? Contrary to popular thought, there is not a doctor constantly with every rider, even at Sky.

    Hay fever is worst during the summer months smack bang in the middle of the Grand Tours.

    I could go on (and on) but it’s only sport. Tall poppy-ism is alive and well it seems.

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