Sports

No doping charges in UK cycling probe but methods criticized

FILE - In this Wednesday, June 28, 2017 file photo, Sky team manager Sir Dave Brailsford attends a press conference ahead of Saturday's start of the Tour de France cycling race in Duesseldorf, Germany. Britain’s anti-doping agency says Wednesday Nov. 15, 2017, it won’t bring any charges over the medical package dispatched to star Team Sky rider Bradley Wiggins after the investigation was hampered by the lack of accurate records held by cycling authorities. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, File)

FILE - In this Wednesday, June 28, 2017 file photo, Sky team manager Sir Dave Brailsford attends a press conference ahead of Saturday's start of the Tour de France cycling race in Duesseldorf, Germany. Britain’s anti-doping agency says Wednesday Nov. 15, 2017, it won’t bring any charges over the medical package dispatched to star Team Sky rider Bradley Wiggins after the investigation was hampered by the lack of accurate records held by cycling authorities. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, File)

LONDON — No charges will be brought over the doping investigation that cast a cloud over the reputation of British cycling and Bradley Wiggins, the country's first Tour de France champion and most decorated Olympian.

But Britain's anti-doping agency did express concern Wednesday that its investigation was hampered by the failure to retain accurate medical records in a sport that prided itself on meticulous precision planning as the country became an Olympic superpower.

Wiggins denounced what he perceived as a "malicious witch hunt" and the failure of U.K. Anti-Doping to completely exonerate him of wrongdoing.

The case centred on the contents of a medical package dispatched from the shared British Cycling-Team Sky medical facility in Manchester to Wiggins at the 2011 Dauphine Libere race in France, a key pre-Tour race. It was couriered by a British Cycling employee despite Wiggins competing for the Sky team in the race, a year before winning the Tour de France.

Wiggins now accepts there would never have been an investigation if there was precise record keeping, shifting the blame to his support staff.

"I put ultimate trust in the team around me to do their jobs in the specific field of expertise to the same standard that I would expect of myself on the bike," Wiggins said in a statement complaining about how information about the package was leaked to a newspaper last year.

It took months after the Daily Mail's report for Team Sky to disclose the contents of the package, eventually telling a parliamentary hearing in London it contained Fluimucil, a brand name for a legal decongestant containing acetylcysteine used for clearing mucus.

But there is no paper trail or written evidence of the treatment and the U.K. Anti-Doping Agency was investigating whether the substance was in fact the banned corticosteroid called triamcinolone. UKAD said Wednesday that it "remains unable to confirm or refute the account that the package delivered to Team Sky contained Fluimucil."

"Our investigation was hampered by a lack of accurate medical records being available at British Cycling," UKAD chief executive Nicole Sapstead said. "This is a serious concern."

U.K. Anti-Doping said the case could be reopened if new evidence emerges, but Wiggins said he is considering legal action himself.

"The period has been a living hell for me and my family, full of innuendo and speculation," Wiggins said. "At times it has felt nothing less than a malicious witch hunt.

"To say I am disappointed by some of the comments made by UKAD this morning is an understatement," he added. "No evidence exists to prove a case against me and in all other circumstances this would be an unqualified finding of innocence."

Team Sky was established in 2009 by Dave Brailsford, the brains behind Britain's 14 medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, with the target of producing the country's first Tour — a feat accomplished by Wiggins in 2012. Team Sky's Chris Froome, his former teammate, has won it four times since.

Brailsford held dual roles with the British Cycling governing body and the team sponsored by the Sky satellite broadcaster before stepping down from his performance director job at British Cycling in 2014.

A shared medical storage facility in Manchester is emblematic of the blurred lines between the two, supposedly separate entities are at the heart of the case that anti-doping investigators and legislators tried to untangle.

British Cycling said it has now implemented changes to its management of medical services in response to "failings" in order to establish clearer boundaries.

"The relationship between British Cycling and Team Sky developed rapidly and as a result, at times, resulted in the blurring of the boundaries between the two," British Cycling chief executive Julie Harrington said.

Making no direct reference to the failure to keep detailed medical records, Team Sky said: "We have co-operated fully with UK Anti-Doping over the last year."

The British parliamentary inquiry, which investigated the incident, plans to issue a report by the end of the year. Damian Collins, who heads the sports committee, said there are "serious and worrying problems" within British cycling relating to anti-doping.

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Rob Harris is at www.twitter.com/RobHarris and www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

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