Opinion: I love cycling but i just can't defend it anymore
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I did not watch Sir Bradley Wiggins’ Tour De France victory in 2012, but Great Britain’s first ever grand tour winner still captivates my admiration. It was his victory that stoked my cycling interest. I have religiously watched every Tour de France since.
To me, Chris Froome and Sir Bradley Wiggins are the bastions of British cycling.
I openly admit that these two, more than any other cyclists in the peleton, are most responsible for my fondness of the sport. To see them heavily suspected of doping is gut wrenching. They were supposed to be the figure heads of a new, cleaner era of cycling. Instead they are embroiled in one of cycling’s biggest scandals.
My discovery and immediate love for cycling came amidst the most divisive period in the sports history. Not since the Festina affair of 1998 had cycling been so disdained. Lance Armstrong had just been stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and banned for life following his admission of long term doping offences.
My initial attraction to Team Sky may have derived predominantly from patriotism but I was also seduced by their openness and zero-tolerance doping approach. (All its riders and staff must sign an agreement that they have no past or present involvement in taking illegal substances. Anyone breaching the agreement at any time must leave the squad.)
I, like many others, passionately supported Team Sky and their general manager Sir David Brailsford. After Wiggins’ Tour de France victory in 2012, fellow Brit and Team Sky rider Chris Froome won four of the next five editions, as well as collecting the Spanish equivalent, La Vuelta a Espana in September.
But in the last six months the wheels have well and truly begun to fall off the Team Sky bus. In December, Chris Froome was found to have exceeded the acceptable Salbutamol limit after the 17th stage of September’s Vuelta. In a piece I wrote for The National Student at the time, I explained:
“Froome’s failed drugs test is not an anti-doping violation rather an adverse analytical finding. This means Froome is perceived innocent by the UCI but must prove the abnormal result came from taking a permitted amount of the drug. He can still compete although if he does not present a satisfying reason in the coming months he will be stripped of his 2017 Vuelta title and will receive a lengthy ban.”
At this point I still held onto my firm belief that the Kenyan born Froome was in the right. It had been disclosed that Froome had had double the legal amount of asthma drug Salbutamol in his urine. But in a report in January, 2016, Cycling Weekly found that Salbutamol was not performance enhancing.
Team Sky also weighed into the debate, claiming: “A wide range of factors can affect the concentrations, including the interaction of Salbutamol with food or other medications, dehydration and the timing of Salbutamol usage before the test.” In my eyes Froome was not deliberately over the limit and furthermore did not gain any reasonable advantage.
I lingered then, biding my time until Froome’s ban was uplifted and he would reinstate his desire to compete in the Giro D’Italia and aim for a Tour-Giro double. That was until the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee's released its damning report into combating doping on Monday.
Effectively, both Wiggins and Brailsford have been accused of cheating. And if not cheating the actual rules in the strictest sense, then certainly the spirit of them. BBC Sport’s Dan Roan wrote: “They have flouted their own commitment to be a team the sport could finally be proud of.”
An anonymous but "well-placed and respected source" told the committee that Wiggins and other riders were using corticosteroids before the 2012 season "beyond the requirement for any TUE". (Therapeutic use exemption.) Page 32 of the report stated that Team Sky used medication to enhance performance:
"…we believe that this powerful corticosteroid was being used to prepare Bradley Wiggins, and possibly other riders supporting him, for the Tour de France. The purpose of this was not to treat medical need, but to improve his power-to-weight ratio ahead of the race.
"The application for the TUE for the triamcinolone for Bradley Wiggins ahead of the 2012 Tour de France, also meant that he benefited from the performance enhancing properties of this drug during the race.
"This does not constitute a violation of the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) code, but it does cross the ethical line that David Brailsford says he himself drew for Team Sky.”
Team Sky said it "strongly refutes" the report's "serious claim that medication has been used by the team to enhance performance". Wiggins himself said in a 45 minute interview with the BBC: "Not at any time in my career did we cross the ethical line,"
"I refute that 100%. This is malicious, this is someone trying to smear me."
Speaking to reporters before the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race in Italy, Froome mirrored Wiggins’ sentiment.
"I can only speak from my own experiences in the team," Froome said, "I've been there for eight years, since day one, when the team started. I certainly have a very different picture to what's been painted in the headlines."
When asked about the specific 2012 allegation from the anonymous source, he added: "No. That is absolute rubbish, I have seen that accusation, but no that is complete rubbish.
"I have never seen anything like that. It is not my experience within the team, that that is how the team operates."
I truly do not know who to believe. I want to side with my heros but everything just seems inherently dishonest. I fell in love with cycling five years ago. I would hate for that admiration to be based on false foundations and innate cheating.
Whether it is the mechanical ticking of the peloton, the sheer mental and physical strength of each professional, the proxy wars and tactical nous between teams and of course the great champions who break off the leading group and climb to victory. I love cycling but i just do not think I can defend it anymore.
I will watch the Giro D’Italia next May, with or without Brailsford, Team Sky and Froome. But a little part of my endearment towards the sport has been lost. I yearn for six months ago, before this scandal broke when I could blindly celebrate my idols. It was much easier then.
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