Olympic gold medalist Nicole Cooke held nothing back when she gave evidence to MPs on the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee on Tuesday. British Cycling, Team Sky and UKAD all came in for a roasting from the former winner of the 2006 Grande Boucle, the women’s Tour de France.
She described cycling as “a sport run by men for men” and that the attempts to combat doping were being conducted by “the wrong people, fighting the wrong war, in the wrong way, with the wrong tools.”
On Simon Cope, the British Women’s Road Team Coach, she expressed her surprise that “an employee, whose salary is paid out of the public purse, is directed by managers, also paid out of the public purse, to spend several days driving from the south of England to Manchester and then back to catch a plane to France and back, all to urgently deliver a package, the contents of which he claims he is ignorant of. And throughout, the management can direct him to do this with no thought for the responsibilities of his post, as British Women’s Road Team Coach.”
According to Cooke, this was not the only occasion that Cope’s duties for the women’s team were compromised in favour of Wiggins. He also spent “some weeks riding a moped in front of him as part of a training regimen.”
She appeared to back up Jess Varnish’s claims of sexism within British Cycling by her statement that, “very little was done to support female road riders during my career…Throughout my whole career, BC senior management and the Board could not have made it more clear to those they directed, that men and the actions and achievements of men, were all that mattered.”
She recalled how British Cycling had downgraded its preparation for the 2008 World’s in the absence of a viable male challenger to the detriment of the Women’s team. She was told that there were no skinsuits available for her for the race and that Brailsford insisted she could not wear the kit she had brought with her “as it did not feature the logo of the new sponsor Sky. Eventually a compromise was reached on the eve of the race, in which Emma Pooley, who had a needle and thread with her, cut out the Sky logo of the jersey and sewed it onto my skinsuit.” She went on to win the World Title.
When asked if she felt that sexism was culturally embedded in British Cycling her reply was damning. “Yes, I do,” she said.
She cast further aspersions on Team Sky’s claim to be the cleanest organisation in cycling saying, “I find the stance of being the cleanest team and yet the team principal Brailsford not knowing what the riders are being treated with, strange. It definitely makes it hard to back up that claim when he obviously doesn’t know what was going on until recently.”
UKAD, the anti-doping body, was also criticised by her for not following up on evidence of doping she had presented to them: “In the first case they stated they would not do anything with my evidence. On the second they took no notes during the meeting and informed me I could not be given any information of any sort as to how they might process the evidence I gave them.”
In a further swipe at Brailsford and Team Sky she raised doubts about the ethics of their use of TUEs, particularly the steroid used by Wiggins before his Tour de France victory in 2012. She posed the question of whether it had been used properly drawing attention to “the strange chronology of the ailment” and that the committee should probe into whether British Cycling had given the drug to athletes “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.”
Cooke’s evidence will make Dave Brailsford’s position at Team Sky even more shaky than it was after his own appearance in front of the committee in December. In a recent and rather awkward interview given to journalists at Team Sky’s training camp in Majorca he said, “Other people will be the judge of me, not me. I am comfortable in my own skin and what I stand for. I stand for clean sport.”