British Cycling's Stephen Park: Bradley Wiggins will remain an ambassador

Bradley Wiggins is a five-time Olympic champion. David Davies/PA Wire/Press Association Images

MANCHESTER -- British Cycling's performance director Stephen Park insists Bradley Wiggins remains an ambassador for the sport.

The five-time Olympic champion's conduct has come under renewed scrutiny after his former coach, Shane Sutton, said getting therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) for banned substances was a legitimate way to make "marginal gains".

Wiggins' image was also left under a cloud last week when UK Anti-Doping dropped its investigation into the so-called Jiffy bag case because of a "lack of contemporaneous evidence".

He branded the inquiry a "malicious witch hunt" and protested his innocence after allegations that a mystery package that was apparently intended for him contained a banned substance.

Park, who succeeded Sutton's manager Dave Brailsford, said: "Bradley is still massively inspirational to cyclists across the country, whether it's on the track or on the road. He has been a great ambassador for the sport and I very much hope he will continue to be so.

"There's no reason why we wouldn't have him involved," continued Park, when asked if Wiggins could be brought in as a guest speaker by British Cycling for its elite riders.

"We'd like to think the vast majority of athletes who have been part of successful GB teams would be happy to come and pass on some of their experiences and motivate and encourage athletes here to aspire to their successes."

During a BBC documentary screened Sunday, Sutton was asked to justify the TUEs that Wiggins received in order to take a corticosteroid before his three biggest races in 2011, 2012 and 2013, including his 2012 Tour de France win.

Wiggins and Team Sky have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, saying the drug was prescribed to treat a longstanding pollen allergy. His TUEs were approved by medical professionals and the UCI.

"If you've got an athlete that's 95 percent ready and that little 5 percent niggle or injury that's troubling them, if you can get the TUE to get them to 100 percent, of course you would in them days," Sutton said.

"The business you're in is to give you the edge on your opponent and ultimately it's about killing them off, but you definitely don't cross the line and that's something we've never done."

Asked if "finding the gains might mean getting the TUE", Sutton repeated the question, before adding: "Yes, because the rules allow you to do that."

The reaction to Sutton's comments among Team GB cyclists at the Manchester Velodrome Monday was of disgust. "To know there are people that have extra things going on in the background because they've got a signed piece of paper saying the can take whatever drug, is not on," said seven-time Paralympic champion Jody Cundy.

"I don't care who it is, if they are fiddling the system they are cheating. It just pisses me off that there are people out there who are willing to abuse it to get an advantage.

"The whole marginal gains thing: I'm guessing they have just looked at it and gone 'that's somewhere where we can do it', and that crosses the border for me."

Katie Archibald, Olympic champion in the team pursuit last year in Rio, found Sutton's claim hard to believe. "That sounds outrageous," she said. "That's completely against the ethics of the sport.

"Attaching a term like 'marginal gains' to that sort of practice is also quite distressing because it's almost a trademark British Cycling phrase, isn't it?"

British Cycling's chief executive, Julie Harrington, was also unhappy. "I was really disappointed [by Sutton's comments]. When people are using language around TUEs they need to be very mindful of the effect that could have on the public's perception and the athletes' reputation.

"You don't want the public to be left with the perception that hundreds of athletes were competing under TUEs. It's disappointing that the language was used wasn't just a bit tighter.

"The numbers speak for themselves. There were only 15 TUEs issued [globally in cycling] in 2016. They are issued on medical grounds. Not on performance grounds. As a national governing body our own medics have not supported any applications for our current GB athletes to the UCI."