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HomeNuggetsThe VV View: Sky, Wiggins and the TUE Grey Area

The VV View: Sky, Wiggins and the TUE Grey Area


the TUE Grey Area
We remember being shocked at how skinny Wiggins had become at Garmin – that was just the start.

The TUE Grey Area – once again I’m reminded of Elton John’s words; ‘and all this science I don’t understand…

The forums are ablaze with righteous indignation from carpet fitters and bike shop mechanics, all of whom are well versed in conditions which affect an athlete’s breathing and the treatment of any ailments related thereto.


I’m a glazier originally and I can’t remember Prednisolone ever cropping up once during my ‘apprenticeship.’

VeloVeritas‘s resident soothsayer and guru on all things bicycle, Viktor, is no Sky or Sir Brad fan but he sums it up thus;

“What’s all the fuss about?

“Wiggins did nothing out with the rules – if you want to bang on about something then it should be about the UCI letting this mess happen.

“Anyway, we should be talking about Jason and Laura’s wedding pictures – aren’t they wonderful? “

He’ll be buying the “Hello” magazine special wedding issue, I’ve no doubt. Vik lives in a black and white world – there are no shades of grey.

My contention to him was that whilst Sky may well have been within the letter of the law, they were certainly not within the spirit.

That 2012 season when the new, unfeasibly skinny Brad destroyed all comers in stage races from Paris-Nice through to Le Tour via Romandie and the Dauphine – he was on bestial form.

I would remind you that he even won a mass charge to the line in ‘The Race to the Sun.’

But the arguments of his medical men were accepted by the UCI – that’s just one doctor, by the way. Now, if it were you or me we’d have said; “Eh? You’re in the form of your life boy, away you go – you need a good feed, not Corticosteroids.

But it wasn’t down to you or me; Sky made all the right noises, Brad got his TUE and the rest is history.

A line I’ve heard from more than one person who knows better than me about these things is;

“If an athlete is so sick that he requires medication that potent then the last thing he should be doing is competing.”

There’s one stat which few have latched onto – it appeared in The Comic last week:

The UCI approved 239 TUE’s in 2009 but last year it was down to just 13. There are three conclusions you can draw from that one:

  1. every team was ‘hard at it’ with TUE’s in 2009
  2. the UCI was dispensing them with gay abandon
  3. a whole generation of pros have become so much more healthy in the space of six years – marvellous news!

Albeit VeloVeritas editor, Martin tells me that the dramatic decrease is partly due to ‘the blue inhaler’ Ventolin being deemed legal since 2010 – so there’ll be a few of them flying about, no doubt.

Last word in this part of the rant goes to Mr. Chris Sidwells who gives us words to the effect;

“Pro teams pushing the rules to the edge?  My!  What a surprise!”

the TUE Grey Area
Team Sky are appearing to be less transparent than the initial launch fanfare and PR statements since would have us believe. Photo©Ed Hood

So much for my tu’pence worth – but the affair just will not fade away – radio, TV, newspapers, forums …

Sir Brad’s surprised that the public and Media should doubt his integrity and keep the pot boiling – before Festina, Telecom, Lance, Floyd, Tyler, Ricco perhaps he’d have a point, but now…

Martin doesn’t have a pharmacy degree either but he’s been performing his due diligence and been trawling the ‘net for informed, rational comment on the affair – there’s plenty of; ‘I told you so ! – now let’s hang ’em high from the tallest oak’ type chat out there but we’ve tried to avoided that.

For instance, there’s some interesting comment from coach, Dave Smith on his ‘Velocity and Vitality’ website, including;

“This is brief and there are many more questions I believe Team Sky should provide answers for, but for now, let’s ask them to chew on these.

The 2011 TUE

What is known

  • Applied for 30th June
  • Granted by Doctor Zorzoli 30th June
  • Examination to justify application 2nd July
  • ‘Life long condition’

What should be made known

  1. Why was the exemption granted before the relevant medical examination?
  2. What changes in performance data did the Team Sky coaching staff observe compared to previous Tours without the Triamcinolone? Were there positive performance gains?
  3. If the condition was truly a lifelong one, why had this treatment never been used before?
  4. Were Wiggins and the Team Sky medical and coaching staff aware that triamcinolone was a potent PED with a history of abuse in pro cycling?

The 2012 TUE

What is known

  • Medical examination done 15th May, confirming nothing more than a lifelong condition.
  • Application not made until 26th June.
  • The TUE states ‘Event – Dauphine’ – this finished on the 10th June, 16 days before the date of the TUE.
  • Wiggins own accounts of the run-up to the Tour were that he was in great health, great condition and ready to go.
  • According to Wiggins, his medical team also knew this, stating “you’re on track here, you’re the favourite to win this race, now we need to make sure the next three weeks… is there anything we can help with at the moment?”

What should be made known

  1. If the examination on 15th May genuinely diagnosed a serious allergy/asthma incident, would that not have warranted treatment being given for the upcoming Dauphine?
  2. How was Wiggins able to win the Dauphine in commanding style, if he was suffering any form of allergy/asthma diagnosed on the 15th May?
  3. If he wasn’t suffering any form of allergy/asthma during the Dauphine, when did the condition start pre-Tour and why was there no examination to confirm this?
  4. Why did the medical team say he was on track and the favourite, if they knew (because of the examination on 15th May) that he was suffering from allergies/asthma?
  5. Did performance data and Wiggin’s subjective feedback from 2011 treatment provide motivation for seeking TUE for triamcinolone?
  6. If triamcinolone wasn’t helpful to performance in 2011, why was it sought in 2012?
  7. Why, and precisely why, was this particular treatment sought, given that it is so rarely used in normal medical practice, and then only for very severe episodes?”

Thought provoking stuff there – so perhaps Vik has it wrong and Sky did not play within the rules?

the TUE Grey Area
Wiggins on the Andrew Marr programme had a fairly easy time and got a chance to deliver what appeared to be scripted answers. Photo©PA

We have some questions about the mess following Wiggins’ and Brailsford’s TV appearances:


  • said that it was for prevention going into the races as he was struggling – but TUE’s are not allowed for prevention, only for serious, acute or chronic episodes – albeit Wiggins states he had these in the past.
  • said that his TUE was signed off by three folk – but only Zorzoli’s signature on it.
  • said that only once it was all signed off would he take the medicine – but the dates on the forms do not show that; there was no TUE application on 30/05/11, it was on 29/06, and it was authorised 30/06. Basically, Wiggins was given permission by the authorities on the basis of a consultation with a specialist which hadn’t yet happened.
  • said there was no performance gain – yet Rasmussen, Millar, Jaksche et al. said it’s strong stuff and it’s not illegal outside competition – and we know how ‘some teams’ spend a lot of time at training camp rather than racing.
  • said he had tried all other options, this was the last ditch to fix things – but if he can’t prove he has serious acute asthma issues then it’s an Anti-Doping Rule Violation (ie. “providing fraudulent information”).
the TUE Grey Area
Sir Dave Brailsford appeared on the BCC to defend his team’s use of triamcinolone in TUEs. Photo©BBC Sport


  • said that Wiggins and the Team Doctor saw a specialist who recommended the treatment, which was then taken to the UCI to seek permission, and only then was delivered – but how did Zorzoli know the outcome of Wiggins’ specialist examination which took place on 02/07/11 when he signed off the TUE on 30/06/11?
  • said that by consent, Sky would release riders’ TUE information. Wada’s position is that this should never happen. Did Sir Dave know this when suggesting it? (that is to say, knowing it ‘sounded right’ but actually could go no further).
  • said that he trusts in the “robust anti-doping system” – but sources close to Team Sky have said that the “confusion” over the TUE dates only serves to illustrate how “paperwork was often mishandled by the UCI at that time”.
  • says that the substance “was not used to enhance performance”, which is of course nonsense; it is whether the substance actually does enhance performance or not which is what the rules legislate for.
  • said that at the time Wiggins was being assigned a Kenalog injection or three he (Brailsford) didn’t know it had performance-enhancing properties – yet Brailsford wrote the forward for David Millar’s book in 2011 and mentioned that cortisone was well known in cycling circles as a PED. Millar wrote in that book that it was being abused by some and was easy to get under a TUE, and also states in the book that he had sat down with Brailsford and shared all his “darkest secrets”.

As Mr. Johny Nash says in the song; ‘More Questions Than Answers’, and as Hitler found out to his cost too, you shouldn’t prod Russian Bears, in this case the ‘Fancy’ ones rather than General Zhukov – they can cause you an awful lot of problems.

And finally, finally – every time I try to nail this piece down another report/article/nugget appears, just today Jonathan Tiernan-Locke said in an interview with the BBC that Team Sky’s use of TUEs ‘looked odd’ and that he was offered the legal but controversial pain-killer Tramadol when competing for GB at the 2012 Worlds, – we give the last word to William Fotheringham who, writing in last Saturday’s Guardian, ends some three pages on the matter with:

“You cannot travel into the grey area where Wiggins and Sky ventured in 2011-2013 and expect your moral credibility to remain unscathed.”