The credibility of British Cycling, Team Sky and Sir Bradley Wiggins was in shreds on Wednesday night after it was revealed at a devastating select committee hearing that their doctor, Richard Freeman, faces a General Medical Council investigation for failing to keep the former Tour de France winner’s medical records, which he allegedly lost when his laptop was stolen.
Freeman had refused to appear before the culture, media and sport committee but his career as doctor to both British Cycling and Team Sky seems over after MPs were told that a UK anti-doping investigation had been frustrated by his failure to upload details of medication he had prescribed Wiggins, and that he lost that information when his laptop was stolen during a holiday in Greece, three years later.
The UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) chief executive Nicole Sapstead - who made it clear she faced obfuscation and evasion from British Cycling and Team Sky as her team tried to investigate a mystery Jiffy Bag ordered by Freeman in 2011 - said she had expected the GMC to investigate the doctor’s failure to keep record of unlicensed corticosteroid triamcinolone, prescribed to Wiggins: a clear breach of medical rules.
Sapstead has already been in discussion with the GMC, whom she said “clearly wish to be involved.” She disclosed that when the UKAD inquiry is complete she would “absolutely” be contacting them about her findings.
Though Team Sky has styled itself as the new, ‘clean’ face of cycling with meticulous attention to detail, the committee was told of a disturbing lack of transparency and minimal lines of management, in which Freeman worked as doctor both for Team Sky and British Cycling. The latter effectively acted as a drugs wholesaler, issuing products to the former, yet failed to secure a ‘wholesale dealer’s’ license or to maintain a list products delivered, also in breach of GMC rules.
Wiggins medical records for the period in question “don’t exist or they are incomplete,” Sapstead said. She said it had taken her four months to get to Wiggins’ medical records and agreed it was “odd” that Team Sky, founded on the principle that road racing could be conducted cleanly, did not keep records. “In the first instance we experienced a degree of resistance. It caused a delay to our efforts,” she told MPs.
The lack of record-keeping allowed Sky freely to order volumes of triamcinolone, a powerful corticosteroid that can cause substantial weight loss. Sapstead said that the drug was ordered by Sir Dave Brailsford’s team in quantities that would have been “excessive” if just used on Wiggins. The alternative explanation of the high volumes was that it was used “on a lot of riders” - though Team Sky had blocked Sapstead’s investigators’ attempts to establish the truth, by claiming that patient confidentiality prevented the release of individual medical records.
In another of the revelations which brings British Cycling to a humiliating low, seven months after the heights of success of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, Sapstead revealed she had been forced to find an alternative route to medical infomation – first seeking GMC advice and then employing an independent doctor to look at Wiggins’ records. But there were none for the period under investigation.
Freeman was supposed to upload medical records onto a Dropbox but having failed to do so, lost them in the theft in the summer of 2014. UKAD’s attempt to verify the stolen laptop story has taken its staff to Interpol. Like so many aspects of the testimony, the intergovernmental crime-fighting organisation is yet to provide documentary proof, though the alleged theft was logged by British Cycling.
UKAD has also been unable to establish whether the Jiffy Bag contained the decongestant Flumicil as Brailsford claimed but the struggle to get beyond the sport’s authorities has mean other work being put aside.
Simon Cope, the former British Cycling coach who couriered the Jiffy Bag at the centre of the investigation, told MPs he “probably” should have asked what was in it but was just following orders – even though that meant him lying to airport staff when telling them he had packed the contents of the case, including the package, which was stowed in an aircraft hold.
When asked by MPs why he did not ask what was in the package, Cope said: “Why would I question it? Why would I question the integrity of our governing body? I just didn’t ask. You may think I’m stupid. I had no reason to doubt it. Throughout my career, I’ve looked up to our governing body. We’ve done so well and with a zero-tolerance stance (on doping).”Reuse content