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Sir Bradley Wiggins comes out fighting as critics hit out in drug row

By Matt Slater

Sir Bradley Wiggins has denied he was trying to gain an "unfair advantage" when he obtained permission to use a banned drug before some of his biggest races, including his victory in the 2012 Tour de France.

Wiggins has faced widespread criticism ever since it emerged he was given injections of the powerful anti-inflammatory drug triamcinolone shortly before the 2011 and 2012 editions of the Tour de France and the 2013 Giro d'Italia.

This was revealed last week when a Russian-based group of computer hackers known as the Fancy Bears started to publish private medical data belonging to some of the world's leading athletes that they stole from the World Anti-Doping Agency.

In a pre-recorded interview with BBC1's Andrew Marr Show that will be broadcast on Sunday morning, the 36-year-old rider said: "(The triamcinolone) was prescribed for allergies and respiratory problems.

"I've been a life-long sufferer of asthma and I went to my team doctor at the time and we went, in turn, to a specialist to see if there's anything else we could do to cure these problems.

"And he said 'yeah, there's something you can do but you're going to need authorisation from cycling's governing body'.

"You have to show and provide evidence from a specialist that they will then scrutinise with three independent doctors and authorise you to take this product. If one of those three doctors says no, you get declined.

"This was to cure a medical condition. This wasn't about trying to find a way to gain an unfair advantage.

"This was about putting myself back on a level playing field in order to compete at the highest level."

The authorisation Wiggins refers to is known as a therapeutic use exemption (TUE), which is effectively a doctor's note allowing an athlete to use a substance that would normally be prohibited under WADA's rules because of its performance-enhancing qualities.

After last week's Fancy Bears leak, it is now known that Wiggins has received six TUEs during his career: three for asthma inhalers between 2008 and 2009, and the three injections between 2011 and 2013.

The five-time Olympic champion still uses an inhaler but no longer needs a TUE to cover that as WADA relaxed the rules for the most common asthma drugs in 2010. But triamcinolone, a corticosteroid, remains banned as it can aid recovery from strenuous activity, postpone fatigue and help with weight loss.

However, there is no suggestion that either Wiggins or Team Sky, his former team, have broken any rules, and his TUEs were approved by the British authorities and cycling's world governing body the UCI.

Team Sky responded to the publication of Wiggins' TUEs by saying it had followed the rules to the letter. British Cycling has said it is "proud of its strong anti-doping culture".

But that has not stopped several current and former riders from criticising Wiggins and Team Sky for seeking permission to use the drug on the eve of his main target in each of those seasons, and expressing surprise that he was allowed to do so.

On Friday, the BBC's Newsnight broadcast an interview with the doctor from the team Wiggins was riding for (Garmin-Slipstream) when he finished third in the 2009 Tour de France, his breakthrough performance on the road.

"I was surprised to see there were TUEs documented for intramuscular triamcinolone just before three major events," said Dr Prentice Steffen, a well-respected figure within the sport.

"You do have to think it is kind of coincidental that a big dose of intramuscular long-acting corticosteroids would be needed at that exact time.

"I would say certainly now in retrospect it doesn't look good, it doesn't look right from a health or sporting perspective."

Wiggins will hope his interview draws a line under a difficult chapter in what has been an otherwise magnificent story for him as an athlete.

But that will not stop this debate rumbling on within the sport, as Dutch rider Tom Dumoulin, one of cycling's rising stars, told a newspaper on Saturday that he thinks the whole episode "stinks".

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