BRADLEY Wiggins last night admitted he was shocked by the scale of the doping programme orchestrated by Lance Armstrong and frustrated to have to defend the propriety of his sport.
It was a timely intervention on a difficult day for Team Sky as Sean Yates, the team's director and a long-time acquaintance of Armstrong, denied having seen anything untoward during his time working with the American, and one of the team's riders described the disgraced star as a "legend."
On Wednesday the US Anti-Doping Agency published 1,000 pages of detailed evidence that Armstrong had cheated throughout his seven Tour wins. Dave Brailsford, Sky's general manager and head of British Cycling, acknowledged yesterday that it was "understandable now for people to look at any results in cycling and question that."
Unlike a number of others in the cycling world yesterday, Wiggins accepted that the Usada report damns Armstrong. He said: "It is pretty jaw-dropping the amount of people who have testified against him. It is certainly not a one-sided hatchet job, it is pretty damning. I am shocked at the scale of the evidence.
"I have been involved in pro cycling for a long time and I realise what it takes to train and win the Tour de France. I'm not surprised by it."
During this year's Tour, Wiggins reacted furiously when the subject of doping in the sport was raised. He said yesterday: "We are the ones picking these pieces up. For me it is about moving forward and not looking back any more to what happened 10, 15 years ago. It always is [frustrating answering questions about drugs cheats]. It is not something which sits easily. Everyone knows where we stand on that, it is about looking forward. We are one of the most successful sports for catching people. I don't think that is relevant to what we are doing today. What we are doing today is setting the example for our sport.
"I've seen a report which says this leaves the sport in tatters. That's quite the opposite, considering the summer of sport we've had, with a British winner of the Tour de France and all the gold medals. The effect it has on me as the current winner of the Tour de France, I've got to answer the questions, pick up the pieces, expect to be the voice of everyone else behind me, which I'm not happy about doing, really, but I understand why I have to do it."
Yates was a team-mate, and sometime room-mate, of Armstrong's with Motorola from 1992 to 1996 and then sporting director of the Discovery team from 2005 to 2007. Armstrong rode for Discovery throughout the 2005 season, including winning the Tour.
Two years ago Yates said of Armstrong: "We think alike, I know exactly how Lance is going to react on a bike to any given situation. One way or another we have been there before, there is no scenario we haven't faced together."
Yesterday Yates said: "It's all pretty damning for Lance and the whole history of his seven Tour wins. My opinion is one of disappointment, I'm upset, really. [I'm shocked] at the depth of the whole system. I worked with Lance but never had any indication this practice was going on. I never saw any indication of anything dodgy going on."
Usada's report states that Armstrong oversaw the hiring, and firing, of all those involved with the team. Among those working on the staff in 2005 was Jose Marti, nominally a trainer, who provided the riders with EPO. Tom Danielson, who joined Discovery in 2005, testified that in that year Marti sold him EPO and instructed him how to avoid testing. The report also states "it is unthinkable" that Johan Bruyneel, the team manager, "would not know whether Armstrong was using doping products in 2005".
Yesterday Team Sky's Alex Dowsett, who used to ride for Trek-LiveStrong, an Under-23 development team set up by Armstrong, said: "He is still a legend of the sport. A guy who had cancer, came back and won the Tour de France. I think it's not really important and I really don't think it matters."