BELLEGARDE-SUR-VALSERINE, France (AFP) — Tour de France leader Bradley Wiggins has hit out at critics who believe his and Sky’s strong performances in the race are thanks in part to doping.
“There’s one reason I’m in this position and that’s because I’ve worked hard,” Wiggins said Wednesday.
On Wednesday Wiggins took another step towards becoming Britain’s first Tour winner by defending his 1:53 lead on defending champion Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) on the first day in the high mountains.
But his team’s performances in the hilly stages so far have prompted doubts among some fans and keen observers and critics of the sport. A day after Sky’s formidable pace-setting on the hilltop finish to stage 7 gave Chris Froome the win and Wiggins the race lead, several posts on the micro-blogging site Twitter questioned Team Sky’s performance.
The posts compared the team’s displays of fast pace-setting with the U.S. Postal team of Lance Armstrong, the seven-time champion who the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency recently charged with being part of a major doping conspiracy. A day after those posts, Wiggins let fly with a foul-mouthed tirade which, if anything, did little to substantiate his claims that the team has nothing to hide.
Sky, however, has done little to show its transparency. At a rest day press conference on Tuesday the team informed all journalists that questions on doping would not be tolerated or answered. On the same day, journalist and author Paul Kimmage told VeloNation.com in an interview that he was disappointed with what he saw as a lack of transparency at the team since late 2010.
The team has come under question in recent days over its work with former Rabobank doctor Geert Leinders, who oversaw rider health during a period between 1997 and 2007 when, according to at least one former rider, the team was accepting of doping practices. Sky principal David Brailsford addressed concerns over Leinders in an interview with the London Times on Tuesday.
“I categorically, 100 percent say that there’s no risk of anything untoward happening in this team since he (Leinders) has been with us,” Brailsford told the Times. “I’ve seen nothing and neither have the full-time medics. I’d put my life on it.
“He’s done nothing wrong here, but we have a reputational risk.
“This is not about doping. We’re pushing the guys to their limits, so we need to look after them. It’s about genuine medical practice.”
But ahead of the first of three days in the Alps, Wednesday reports in the French press referred to Team Sky as “U.K. Postal.”
The first doping affair at the Tour — Frenchman Remy Di Gregorio was arrested for allegedly trying to buy doping substances — has shown that cheating, even in isolated cases, still exists.
But Wiggins, a three-time Olympic track champion who finished fourth in the 2009 race and was third at last year’s Vuelta a España, said the doubts about him and his team are wide of the mark.
“I don’t feel that I should have to sit here and justify everything I’ve done to the world,” he said. “I’m not just some shit rider who’s come from nowhere.
“I’ve been six-times world champion (on the track), fourth in the Tour de France, third in the Vuelta. It’s not like I’ve just come from nowhere.
“I’ve got an incredible pedigree behind me.”
Asked why he had lost his temper earlier this week when asked about doping issues, he replied: “To me it’s them (critics) pissing all over everything I’ve done by saying, ‘yeah, he’s cheating’.
“That’s what really gets to me. Everyone in their individual jobs works hard at what they do… Yeah, I’m in the yellow jersey and I’m inspiring kids in the UK to take up cycling or whatever.
“But ultimately I’ve worked hard to be in this position and I deserve every minute of what I’ve been through in this last week or so, especially after sitting at home last year and watching it on the television.”
Wiggins, who crashed out on stage 7 last year, said he has passed dozens of tests by the anti-doping authorities.
“There’s one reason I’m in this position and that’s because I’ve worked hard,” he added.
“I’m tested by the UCI God knows how many times a year, God knows how many times on this race and the Dauphiné, blood tested every morning… What more can I do ? I don’t know really ? I’d love to know.”