The first section of the Antidote of Team Sky contains the phrase ‘This is The Line’, regarding the determination and drive needed for success in the never stopping world of cycling.
Since the team’s founding in 2007 it has generated an enormous amount of attention for the right reasons since the turn of the decade, with dominance in the Tour De France the pinnacle of the achievements. But now dark shadows cast over a once gilded operation.
Questions are being asked at the practices and set-ups instigated by Team Sky in their organisation of major events. The Antidote, written onto the team’s equipment and merchandise, might as well now read ‘This is The Ethics Line’.
Ever since Lance Armstrong’s tearful admission to Oprah on his systematic use of doping, saying it would not have been possible to win the titles without cheating, and that drug culture was prevalent in cycling at that time, the sport’s been tainted with this drug abuse crisis.
Armstrong was the protagonist at the pinnacle of the sport. Seven consecutive Tour titles won him adulation and accreditation across the globe, and at the time everything seemed the norm, even with faint whispers of wrongdoing in the background. But they were simply outnumbered by the vast amount of support that Armstrong carried.
So when the American told the world that he purposely cheated the system and that the greatest success in the history of cycling turned out to be fiction, the reputation of the sport looked to be in tatters. What would happen next?
For a short period, a few names shared the biggest prize. Alberto Contador, Andy Schleck and Cadel Evans each carried the yellow jersey across the Champs-Élysées finish line, but in the background, Team Sky was in the process of building a dynasty.
Firstly in 2012, Sir Bradley Wiggins stormed to glory in Paris, and now Chris Froome, bar the success of Vincenzo Nibali in 2014, has taken over the mantle as the man to beat, under the stewardship of General Manager of Team Sky Sir Dave Brailsford.
Domination unparalleled in recent times, Froome has won four Tours and is just one off from sharing the all-time record. Brailsford’s standing in the sport couldn’t have been higher post-London 2012. But now a recent parliamentary report from the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee poses new questions of ethical wrongdoing.
The report’s damning conclusions allege that Team Sky cynically abused the anti-doping system to allow the administration of performance-enhancing drugs, with one example in 2012 eye-raising. This is after Chris Froome was found to have failed a drugs test in his victory at the Vuelta a Espana last year, after an investigation by the Guardian and French newspaper Le Monde.
Froome is not the centre of attention in the report, but significantly Brailsford and Wiggins are. For the first time publicly it is suggested Team Sky and Wiggins used the powerful corticosteroid triamcinolone not to treat a legitimate medical condition but to improve their chances of winning.
The MPs who led the inquiry believe Wiggins used it to improve his power-to-weight ratio in the run-up to the Tour de France in 2012. They also, remarkably, allege that the performance-enhancing benefits would’ve continued after the race. Wiggins said he strongly refutes the claim that any drug was used without medical need.
The report went on to say: “Brailsford must take responsibility for these failures, the regime under which Team Sky riders trained and competed, and the damaging scepticism about the legitimacy of his team’s performance and accomplishments.”
Team Sky said: “The report includes an allegation of widespread Triamcinolone used by Team Sky riders ahead of the 2012 Tour de France. Again, we strongly refute this allegation.”
What can now be regarded as an illusion of integrity by Team Sky is becoming clearer. This report is compelling yet damning, and it strikes right at the heart of the purpose of the team itself. Questions must be answered otherwise the team may simply not survive.