Sir Bradley Wiggins’ and Team Sky should have their reputations “reinstated” following unproven doping allegations, says world cycling’s former head Brian Cookson.
A 14-month investigation into a “mystery” medical package sent to Wiggins and Team Sky in 2011 ended with no charges.
But ex-UCI president Cookson says the saga – called a “witch hunt” by Wiggins – has been damaging.
“We must learn from it,” he said.
It was alleged that the package at the centre of the investigation contained a banned substance – but the doctor involved, Dr Richard Freeman, said it was a legal decongestant, fluimucil.
Wiggins has always denied any anti-doping violations took place.
After the revelations appeared in the Daily Mail newspaper, UK Anti-Doping (Ukad) launched an investigation but ended it last month, saying it said it had been “unable” to prove what the package – delivered for Wiggins at a race in France – contained.
The five-time Olympic champion went on to win the Criterium du Dauphine stage race in 2011 and became the first Briton to win the Tour de France in 2012.
Cookson said that the package will remain “something of a mystery” but “no rules were broken”.
He told BBC Sport: “I think the reputation of the sport, the reputation of the the team and the reputation of the rider Bradley Wiggins should be reinstated.
“At the end of the day I have no idea what was in that package, and have no idea what the so-called whistle blower told Ukad or told the Daily Mail what was in the package. Ukad have not been able to put a case together so that’s the end of the story.”
‘It’s no surprise teams push rules to the limit’
Wiggins and Team Sky have also come under scrutiny for their use of therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) – permission to use otherwise-banned substances when there is a proven medical need.
The issue first arose when hackers released Wiggins’ medical records showing he had received TUEs.
That led to criticism of Team Sky, who were accused of exploiting the system for sporting gains – ex-Team Sky and British Cycling coach Shane Sutton told the BBC last month that TUEs may have been used to “find the gains” but insisted he and his riders “never crossed the line”.
“I’ve said many times before I don’t think anyone should be surprised when a professional sports team pushes the rules right to the very limit,” Cookson said.
“That’s what professional sports teams do – you see it in football, you see it in Formula One and so on.
“That’s essentially I think what’s happened here; in terms of the structures that were in place at the time, the rules were abided by.”
Cookson, who said that rules over TUE usage were tightened during his presidency, now wants the sport of cycling to move forward.
“I think that there is a separate argument about TUEs” he said. “Are they a good thing or not? If you want my view I think they should be allowed but if they are allowed then the rider doesn’t compete for a limited period of time.
“That’s not the rules at the moment. The World Anti Doping Agency (Wada) has looked at the rules time and time again every year and kept the TUE system. It’s fit for purpose in their view and sports have to abide by the rules.
“We did tighten the rules up on how TUEs were issued and that’s resulted in far fewer being issued. I think that’s a good thing.”
I didn’t expect to lose ‘strange’ election
Cookson’s presidency of the UCI ended when he lost an election to Frenchman David Lappartient, who accused him of failing to stay informed about the issues facing British Cycling, in September.
The Lancashire-born OBE recipient, who was British Cycling president between 1997 and 2013, was beaten by 37 votes to eight in the contest to lead world cycling’s governing body.
“Obviously I was very disappointed at the outcome of the votes,” he said.
“Politics is a brutal game sometimes and it’s difficult to analyse. We’ve seen some strange results in all sorts of elections in recent years; from my point of view that was another strange result.
“It wasn’t one I was expecting but in politics you have to live and go on and find other things to do. My life will be less stressful and more enjoyable and I’ll be able to spend more time riding my bike, so I’m a happy man.”
‘I want to lift women’s cycling’
Speaking at an event on Tuesday to launch the 2018 Tour de Yorskhire, Cookson also spoke of his plans to “lift the paradigm” of women’s cycling.
Next May’s Tour de Yorkshire will feature a two-day women’s race.
“It’s going to be a really great race,” said Cookson. “I’m looking forward to doing some interesting things for the future. One of them is to put together a women’s team, a very high-level thing. I want to try to lift the whole paradigm of women’s cycling.
“It’s something I started doing at the UCI and I want to do more of it now with a hands-on approach to a team in the future.
“From 2019 the UCI is going to insist on having two levels of teams for women in the same way there are three for men.
“There will be a new level of women’s world tour teams and they will have to adhere to higher standards, better funding, proper salaries and so on and that’s something I want to do with a team based in the UK.”