Nicole Cooke Rides Into Battle Against Sexist Cycling And Dodgy Drugs

Nicole Cooke gave a no hold barred account of cycling to MPs. Pic: Huw Evans Picture Agency.

Nicole Cooke Rides Into Battle Against Sexist Cycling And Dodgy Drugs

Nicole Cooke has told a panel of MPs that cycling is a sport “run by men, for men” and the fight against doping is being waged by “the wrong people, in the wrong way, with the wrong tools”.

Over 70 minutes of wide-ranging testimony, Wales’ Olympic and world road race champion strongly criticised British Cycling, the International Cycling Union, UK Anti-Doping, UK Sport and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

Speaking to the MPs via an audio link from Paris, Cooke concluded her evidence by contrasting her use of the corticosteroid triamcinolone with Sir Bradley Wiggins’ use of the same drug.

Both were given therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) – doctor’s notes that let athletes take substances that would otherwise be banned – for injections of the triamcinolone, in Wiggins’ case on the eve of the 2011 and 2012 Tours de France and the 2013 Giro d’Italia.

Cooke, however, explained she used it to treat a serious knee injury in 2003 and 2007, when the only alternative was surgery, and did not race until “long after the performance-enhancing effects had worn off”.

She claimed Wiggins used the “same steroid before his main goals of the season”.

If there was any doubt about the point Cooke was making she spelled it out in the 6,000-word written testimony she provided to the committee.

In a section on her own experiences of trying to race clean in a dirty era, the 33-year-old noted the large number of riders at the biggest races with TUEs. She wrote that having such an exemption “was a very convenient way to mask a doping program”.

Cooke then explained she raised her concerns about the abuse of TUEs with the forerunner to UK Anti-Doping but was told “there were a number of very poorly elite athletes competing”.

Eventually, she wrote, the TUE system was tightened up, with more independent oversight, but most asthma drugs were removed from the banned list and the use of corticosteroids was only controlled during races – there is no formal rule to prevent riders from abusing the drug between races when training.

“The significant majority of an elite athlete’s time is spent out of competition. One gate was closed but a bigger one opened,” wrote Cooke.

On the specific issue of Wiggins’ TUEs for triamcinolone, Cooke wrote: “Perhaps the more relevant question, rather than the strange coincident chronology of the ailment, is to ask the BC/Sky medical team how often has this steroid been issued to athletes out of competition.

“Is it used properly – to help recover from career-threatening injuries – or has it ever been used to assist athletes losing fat and gaining power in the out-of-competition preparation for major events?”

Wiggins, Britain’s most successful Olympian, was riding for Team Sky when his injections were applied for and administered by Dr Richard Freeman, who is now British Cycling’s team doctor.

The 2012 Tour de France champion, his former team and the governing body have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, saying he needed the drug to alleviate an allergy to pollen.

This explanation, however, has caused considerable controversy as Wiggins has previously denied using needles during his career and claimed to be in good shape ahead of those races.

That debate took on a more serious tone when UK Anti-Doping opened an investigation into “allegations of wrongdoing”, involving the team and the national governing body, following a Daily Mail report about the delivery of a mystery package by a British Cycling coach to Freeman at the end of the Criterium du Dauphine race in June 2011, a month before Wiggins’ first TUE for triamcinolone.

After two months of refusing to say what was in the package, Team Sky principal and former British Cycling performance director Sir Dave Brailsford told the same panel of MPs in December that Freeman told him it contained a legal decongestant he gave to Wiggins via a nebuliser.

Brailsford assured the committee’s chairman Damian Collins paperwork would be provided to prove this but Press Association Sport understands neither the committee nor UKAD has yet been given definitive proof.

On this subject, Cooke was withering in both her oral and written statements, pointing out the courier of the package, Simon Cope, was the GB women’s road cycling team coach – a role he was paid to do with public money.

She questioned why Cope travelled from London to Geneva, via Manchester, to deliver a cheap, over-the-counter medicine to a professional men’s team while she was struggling to get him interested in organising a training camp for that year’s world championships.

For Cooke, who retired from racing in 2013, this episode is symptomatic of the “downright and designed-in sexism”.

Referring to the governance of the sport Cooke noted that cycling “receives annually significant financial support from the public purse” and that , in her opinion, “such funds are not distributed equitably and in a decent manner for the benefit of the whole of the target population. I summarise that as a sport run by men, for men.”

British Cycling insists it is working to redress the inequality issues raised by Cooke.

“While there is still a way to go, British Cycling is absolutely committed to resolving the historic gender imbalance in our sport,” said a statement.

“There is always more that can be done and we strive to make continual improvements to ensure that cycling is reaching out to women and girls of all ages and abilities.”

UK Sport has commissioned an independent review to investigate some of Cooke’s claims.

“UK Sport takes its responsibilities as an investor of public funds and a champion of equality in sport very seriously,” said a spokesman.

“On matters raised relating to the governance of the national governing body, UK Sport and Sport England have recently published a new code for sports governance which raises the bar for the requirements around governance that all sports bodies who receive public funding will need to address and comply to.”

UK Anti-Doping welcomed the debate but re-iterated it will not disclose any information in relation to investigations.

A spokeswoman for UKAD said: “We have read and listened to the evidence presented this morning by Nicole Cooke at the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee.

“Anti-doping is a complex and evolving area; one that continues to be subject to great debate, especially in relation to the regulatory and investigatory powers of national anti-doping organisations. We welcome this debate, as it highlights the challenges we face regarding jurisdiction and resourcing. But there should be no doubt about the determination of this organisation to protect clean sport; our staff passionately believe in protecting everyone’s right to clean, fair and honest competition.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.