Team Sky boss Dave Brailsford has defended the decision to get special permission for Bradley Wiggins to receive injections of a banned drug before three major races, including his historic win in the 2012 Tour de France.
Wiggins' use of the powerful anti-inflammatory drug triamcinolone on the eve of the 2011 and 2012 Tours and 2013 Giro d'Italia was revealed when a group of Russian computer hackers starting leaking the medical data of dozens of top athletes almost a fortnight ago.
The 36-year-old British star applied, and was granted, three therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) to take the drug to deal with a pollen allergy that aggravates his long-standing asthma condition.
Brailsford: on whether Team Sky crossed the line over Wiggins' TUEs pic.twitter.com/XWYEApJ5D5— Dan Roan (@danroan) September 26, 2016
But triamcinolone has also been widely used as a doping agent by riders, including Lance Armstrong, and is believed to help athletes lose weight, fight fatigue and aid recovery.
Wiggins' TUEs, which were stolen from the World Anti-Doping Agency's computer servers by the so-called 'Fancy Bears international hack team', were approved by cycling's world governing body the UCI and there is no suggestion that he or the team have broken any rules.
But that has not stopped both the rider and Team Sky facing a barrage of criticism from inside and outside the sport, particularly given the team's much-publicised "zero tolerance" attitude towards doping, and Wiggins' own comments about drugs cheats and the use of needles in his autobiographies.
Brailsford: on whether the controversy has tainted Team Sky's achievements pic.twitter.com/J8cWZBZOJL— Dan Roan (@danroan) September 26, 2016
Speaking to the BBC in Manchester on Monday, Brailsford reiterated his belief that the team had done nothing wrong and denied that this was remotely similar to the doping so prevalent in the sport a decade ago.
"What we're talking about here is Bradley having a need, the team doctor supporting that, an expert giving their opinion that this is the medicine that is required, and that then going to the authorities who say 'we agree with you, and here's the certificate that gives you the permission to use that medication'," said Brailsford.
Brailsford: on how Wiggins came to be prescribed triamcinolone for asthma pic.twitter.com/UIr2GVdWe8— Dan Roan (@danroan) September 26, 2016
"I've got trust in (the TUE) process and the integrity of that process.
"It's not one person making that decision. It's not the rider or the team doctor, who is picking the medication. They have to seek permission to use it and they were granted permission."
Brailsford's comments come after a bruising spell for the team which has seen some critics suggest their achievements have been tainted by the revelation that Wiggins was allowed to ride having taken a drug normally reserved for acute asthma attacks.
Brailsford: on whether he has any regrets over the TUEs pic.twitter.com/L8DLkg31Qa— Dan Roan (@danroan) September 26, 2016
Those critics, who include current and former riders and team doctors, have pointed out that Wiggins' breakthrough performance as a road cyclist at the 2009 Tour, when he came third, was achieved using less powerful medication via an inhaler. That form of asthma therapy no longer requires a TUE as there is no evidence of wider performance enhancement.
Wiggins' own words have also come back to haunt him as he told the ghost-writer of his 2012 autobiography 'My Time' that he was in good health and the form of his life before the 2012 Tour, which you would expect given the fact that he won three significant races in the first half of the season and followed his Tour win with victory in the Olympic time trial.
Wiggins, who last month in Rio became Team GB's most decorated Olympian with his eighth medal, tried to answer some of these charges in an interview with the BBC's Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, saying he was not seeking an "unfair advantage" but was trying "to level the playing field so he could perform at the highest level".
He also claimed that, contrary to his comments at the time and in his autobiography later that year, he had been "struggling" with his breathing in 2012 and had been advised by Team Sky that there was "something" that could be done but he would need a TUE.
Brailsford expanded on this, saying Team Sky's "brilliant team of doctors" have a duty to help the riders be as healthy as they can be, and the riders are supported in "every aspect of their performance".
The 52-year-old team added: "With the information that I had at the time, five or six years ago, with the information that was presented to me, and the expert opinion and the whole integrity of the process, I would make that decision again."
He also rejected any comparisons with former dopers.
"Certain dopers, who cheated with a cocktail of drugs, claim they used this and abused it for performance enhancement - that's not the the case here," he said, before adding that the team has only been granted 13 TUEs in their seven seasons of racing.
But the former British Cycling performance director did admit this episode has raised some relevant questions about how and when TUEs are used.
"On the one hand, transparency and sharing information would obviously be an ideal place to get to, and I think that's where we're going to head in the future," he said.
"But set against that you do have the right to medical confidentiality and riders, like you or I, have the right to disclose that or not.
"Certainly, going forward, there is a broader argument about should TUEs be made public, and we're looking at it."
With both rider and team now having spoken out, they will hope that the matter can be closed, especially as Wiggins is expected to bring the curtain down on his remarkable career at the Ghent Six track cycling event in November.
Brailsford will also be desperate to maintain the team's clean image, as that has been crucial in bringing on board such a major, mainstream sponsor, as well as raising the sport's profile in the UK.
"One-hundred per cent you can trust in Sky, absolutely 100 per-cent. It's the very essence of why we created this team in the first place," said Brailsford when asked if the public can still believe what they're seeing.
"This sport had a difficult time in the past and the whole reason for creating the team was so that young guys leaving (Manchester's National Cycling Centre) could go and you'd know they would never be pressurised to cheat.
"That's what we wanted to create. And I absolutely guarantee you that nobody on this team has or will be put under pressure to do anything outside the rules."