Agreeing with Piers Morgan can be a dicey proposition but on the subject of Bradley Wiggins the man is spot on. Morgan tore into the absent Wiggins on Good Morning Britain, describing the 2012 Tour de France champion as a “flaming cheat” and demanding his knighthood be rescinded.
The catalyst for Morgan’s diatribe was the already notorious parliamentary report that accused Wiggins and Team Sky of “crossing an ethical line” by using drugs to enhance performance rather than treat a medical condition. “Drugs were being used by Team Sky, within World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) rules, to enhance the performance of riders and not just to treat medical need.”
Defenders might point to the caveat “within WADA rules”; yet even someone with a poster of Wiggins on their wall must concede that “drugs” “enhance” and “performance” are never great words to read in the same sentence – at least not a sentence of a parliamentary report on the UK’s premier cycling team and its former star turned knight of the realm.
Wiggins has duly responded. “This is malicious, this is someone trying to smear me” (by “someone” perhaps he means the British Government), and “I just don't know anymore in this sport – you are damned if you do, damned if you don't.”
Even someone with a poster of Wiggins on their wall must concede that “drugs” “enhance” and “performance” are never great words to read in the same sentence
In fairness, Bradley Wiggins has never had much time for scepticism, at least not where Bradley Wiggins is concerned. In 2012, he complained to British GQ: “What angers me is that I feel I have to justify my position now and what I am achieving… I feel uncomfortable being the voice of today's riders, like I am having to atone for the sins of another generation."
You suspect Bradley rather pines for those days.
The report is only the latest chapter in Team Sky’s ongoing quest to prove that there is not only such a thing as bad publicity, there is also terrible, horrible, no good, very bad, ‘stop, stop, he’s already dead’ publicity. Perhaps most notorious is the 2011 ‘Jiffy Bag Incident’: in which British cycling coach Simon Cope travelled from London to meet Wiggins at the Critérium du Dauphiné and deliver a padded envelope which contained – well, nobody is quite sure, but it definitely wasn’t anything illegal, promise.
After several explanations, irritatingly disproved, Team Sky finally decided the package contained asthma decongestant Fluimucil - available for €8 from most French pharmacies. Perhaps Team Sky discovered Fluimucil’s remarkable accessibility, for once the story got out via the Daily Mail (despite Team Sky’s best efforts) Wiggins would write on Instagram: “Fuck knows what was in the bag, it was never delivered to me!” You had one job, Simon.
Of course Wiggins wouldn’t have needed Fluimucil if it wasn’t for his asthma, for which he also received therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) for the corticosteroid Triamcinolone before three Grand Tours, including the 2012 Tour de France. Conveniently, as well as treating asthma, Triamcinolone also aids weight loss: rather handy for a cyclist preparing to propel his body all across the Alps. Scottish cyclist David Millar described the use of Triamcinolone as a "TUE loophole".
Wiggins, a man hardly unfamiliar with the business end of his own trumpet, neglected to mention his asthma at all in his 2012 autobiography. (Modest forbade?) But as startling omissions go, this is trumped by Wiggins’s erstwhile employers: Team Sky managing to misplace three years of medical records – which happened to cover 2011 and the Jiffy Bag – after the team doctor lost his laptop in Greece way back in 2014. (Greek canines must have some jaw on them.) What about the backups? No backups were kept: quite the oversight for an outfit which prided itself on leaving no stone unturned (or Jiffy Bag unopened) in its pursuit of cycling glory, but took a more relaxed attitude on recording exactly what was going into its cyclists.
It’s not surprising a retired cyclist recently advised young riders: "Don't go to Sky, steer clear of them. Go somewhere else because they'll ruin you." It’s a little more surprising that the cyclist in question won the Tour de France with Team Sky in, let’s see, 2012. But then last year, a few months after hackers leaked our man’s fondness for a TUE, Wiggins was dismissing Team Sky’s famous ‘marginal gains’ policy as “a load of rubbish.” Indeed ever since the unpleasantness kicked off, Wiggins has been taking healthy chunks from the hand that once fed him (Triamcinolone) in order to dissociate the terrible cycling team from the poor man who happened to ride for it.
And he’s right. One should not confuse Bradley Wiggins with Team Sky. The vast majority of Team Sky employees were unable to translate their success into endorsement deals, red carpet appearances, and, oh yes, knighthoods. Which brings us back to Mr Morgan.
We can all question the viability of the honours system, or the wisdom of bestowing an honour upon an active athlete, an active athlete operating in probably the most notoriously corrupt sport of the lot. The fact is, Bradley Wiggins was given a knighthood; now the knighthood should be retrieved.
There will be arguments claiming Wiggins is more victim than perpetrator; no crime was proved, the rules were adhered to. Don’t allow that to be the case. Don’t hold a man to a lower standard just because he had sideburns and speaks with a British accent. If Wiggins hailed from Russia, or even America, there would be no doubt to offer the benefit of.
Don’t hold a man to a lower standard just because he had sideburns and speaks with a British accent
Morgan isn't alone in invoking the C word. Journalist Dave Walsh, the nemesis of Lance Armstrong, tweeted “the DCMS report effectively says they [Team Sky and Wiggins] cheated to win Tour de France and it is impossible to argue otherwise.” Regardless of whether Wiggins is a medical cheat, he is unquestionably a moral one. Removing that ‘Sir’ will send a message: that you cannot assert superiority just because you exploit, subvert and bend the rules rather than break them completely, then collapse in spasms of righteous indignation when people fail to appreciate the difference. (Assuming such a thing exists.)
Former teammates aren't yet drawing daggers but nor are they leaping to the Wiggins defence. Victoria Pendleton told BBC Radio 5 Live, “I’d like to kind of believe it’s not true” and, “I’ve always been in awe of his physical ability. The way he pushes himself in training. I’m a Bradley Wiggins fan.”
A generous assessment, especially considering Wiggins once described Pendleton as “a bit of a milkshake” for her reliance on sports psychologist Dr Steve Peters. Mental health, eh? A breeze compared to rotten old asthma and its habit of flaring up before the Grand Tours. Stay classy, Brad.
For Wiggins the last five years have been the rough side of disaster, and the fallout isn't done yet. His reputation lies in ruins: further revelations – those medical records must be somewhere – could jeopardise titles that weren't bestowed by Her Majesty, the titles that matter most of all.
Back in the carefree days of 2012, when the only sins troubling Wiggins belonged to other people, the soon-to-be Sir Bradley asserted: “my victories aren't built on sand. No one will ever take that away from me. I have won the Tour de France."
Don’t count on that.