By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) - Chris Froome's credibility as triple Tour de France champion has only been boosted by the hacking of his private medical information, according to a South African physiologist who carried out tests on the Briton last year.
Jeroen Swart, in an interview with the Cycling Tips website, suggested, however, that other data published by alleged Russian cyber hackers had weakened Team Sky's image as "squeaky clean, cleaner than the rest."
A group, identified as APT28 and Fancy Bear by U.S. cyber-security researchers, last week revealed Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs) for Froome and 2012 Tour winner Bradley Wiggins.
Froome's information was already known.
"It seems Chris has been completely transparent and open about his TUEs and the documents back that," said Swart, who worked with Froome after the rider decided to answer critics and undergo physiological tests. "There was nothing hidden or untowards from Chris’s side.
"I think it was (Sunday Times journalist) David Walsh who wrote that Chris had been offered a TUE for cortisone in 2015 when in the last week of the Tour he was starting to develop a chest infection or an asthma exacerbation, and declined. He rode on without one.
"Based on that perspective, he actually comes out looking all the better after this. It is really Wiggins and the team who are having a negative light cast on them. From Chris’s side, it is actually quite positive."
Wiggins, the first British rider to win the Tour and his country's most decorated Olympian after last month's Rio Games took his tally to eight medals, is facing questions about his use of allergy injections that emerged in the leak.
While there was no suggestion of wrongdoing, the injections of triamcinolone to treat an asthma problem appeared to undermine Wiggins' previous claims that he had adhered to cycling's "no needles" policy.
In his 2012 autobiography, Wiggins wrote: "I've never had an injection, apart from vaccinations, and on occasion I've been put on a drip".
A spokesman for Wiggins said the injection referred to in the leaked information was an intramuscular treatment for asthma that had been fully approved by the sport's governing bodies. He said the rider stood by his comment concerning the use of illegal intravenous needle injections.
Swart said the injections still left questions to be answered, particularly when there were other options such as corticosteroid.
"You could shove bucketloads up your nose and down your throat and inhale it, and you wouldn’t be doing anything that would end up with systemic effects," he said.
"And you would be avoiding the interpretation that there is a performance-enhancing effect. From that perspective it doesn’t look good."
(Editing by Ed Osmond)