The Team Sky Professional Cycling Team didn’t break any rules but that didn’t stop the anti-doping crusaders from complaining about it. The whining anti-dopers are featured prominently in a new cycling documentary titled “Cycling’s Superheroes; The Price of Success” broadcast on BBC.
Shane Sutton, the former head coach and technical director for Team Sky, openly and honestly described the pro cycling team’s approach to optimizing its athletes’ performances. Sutton said he would do whatever he could to ensure that his athletes were 100% ready for competition. And while Sutton suggested that the team would push the limits, he was adamant that he would never “cross the line” in violation of the World Anti-Doping Code (WADC).
“If you’ve got an athlete that’s 95% ready, and that little 5% injury or niggle that’s troubling, if you can get that TUE to get them to 100%, yeah of course you would in those days,” Sutton said. “The business you’re in is to give you the edge on your opponent… and ultimately at the end of the day it’s about killing them off. But definitely don’t cross the line and that’s something we’ve never done.”
Sutton did not hesitate to admit that Team Sky would seek the best possible medical treatment to allow athletes to perform optimally even if that required seeing a doctor to obtain a therapeutic use exemption (TUE). TUEs permit athletes to use medications that are otherwise prohibited by the WADC.
Sutton was asked if Team Sky would obtain TUEs if they led to enhanced athletic performance. Sutton indicated that he did not have a problem doing so if the rules permitted it.
“Finding the gains might be getting a TUE? Yes, because the rules allow you to do that.”
David Millar, a one-time unapologetic doped pro cyclist who became an outspoken anti-doping crusader in retirement, was appalled that Sutton dared to make such an admission. It didn’t matter to Millar that Team Sky followed the rules. There actions were unacceptable because they pushed the limits and “gamed the system”.
“Do I think they were gaming the system?” Millar said. “Yeah, I think that’s quite obvious, I think we all know that.
“It’s incredibly disappointing. Team Sky was zero-tolerance, so you’d think that would mean you wouldn’t tread into that very grey area of corticosteroid use, because it is performance-enhancing. So when I heard that it was like, ‘seriously?’.
“A little bit of me died to be honest with you. I thought you guys were different.”
Sutton’s role in referring Team Sky cyclists for medical treatment became public after the Russian Fancy Bear Hacking Team released confidential medical documents that revealed Team Sky Cyclist and Tour de France champion Sir Bradley Wiggins received a TUE for the use of the injectable long-acting corticosteroid triamcinolone.
An independent inquiry failed to find evidence of WADC rule violations but instead concluded Sutton operated within a “culture of fear”. A separate 6-month internal investigation cleared Sutton of eight of nine charges against him involving discrimination, bullying and sexism. The one charge for which he was found guilty involved the use of the word “bitches”. He was cleared of charges involving references to female cyclists as “difficult”, “cunts” and “sheilas”. Sutton was ultimately pushed out of British Cycling as a result.
Sutton’s willingness to push the limits with the use of TUEs may have been disturbing to them but it was legal. Nonetheless, his departure from Team Sky and British Cycling may give anti-doping crusaders some satisfaction even if it was not the result of anti-doping violations.