LONDON - The wife of Sir Bradley Wiggins has apologised after branding Chris Froome a "slithering reptile" and accusing Team Sky of sacrificing her husband to protect their star rider.
Wiggins and Froome fell out when they were Sky teammates at the 2012 Tour de France and since then their wives, Cath Wiggins and Michelle Froome, have clashed on social media.
The acrimony resurfaced in spectacular fashion when Mrs Wiggins responded to news that Froome had failed a drugs test in September and was facing a potentially ruinous doping ban.
Apparently bitter about Froome’s less-than-sympathetic response to the controversy that has surrounded her husband in the last 15 months, Cath Wiggins posted an explosive message on Facebook on Wednesday, complaining about the coverage.
"I am going to be sick," she wrote. "Nothing in the news. If I was given to conspiracy theory I’d allege they’d thrown my boy under the bus on purpose to cover for this slithering reptile."
The post was accompanied by a photograph of Froome riding in this year’s Vuelta a Espana - a race he won, but during which he provided a urine sample with an excessive amount of an asthma drug - and implied she was unhappy with Sky over damage to her husband’s reputation.
The post was deleted but screenshots of it surfaced on social media and on Thursday night, after Sportsmail had contacted Wiggins’s representatives, she posted an apology.
"Sorry everyone for my emotional comments and insults," she said. "Too much stress has got the better of me. Heat of the moment thing and certainly not my intent to fan any flames."
It added to Sky’s problems when they had already been rocked by an attack on Froome by another leading cyclist and news that their owners have agreed to sell to Disney.
As Froome continued to protest his innocence, one of his main rivals branded it a "scandal" that the Tour de France champion has not been suspended.
Germany’s Tony Martin, the four-times world time trial champion, claimed a "double standard" was being applied. Martin displayed a lack of understanding of the rules concerning an asthma drug such as salbutamol. A failed test for a "specified substance" does not result in a mandatory suspension, with the athlete given the chance to explain how they might have exceeded the permitted level.
Froome was double the ceiling amount of 1000ng/ml. Even so, Martin argued Froome should have been suspended for the World Championships that followed the Vuelta in September.
It’s sad seeing the misconceptions that are out there about athletes & salbutamol use. My hope is that this doesn’t prevent asthmatic athletes from using their inhalers in emergency situations for fear of being judged. It is not something to be ashamed of @asthmauk #asthma
Froome went on to win two bronze medals in the individual and team time trials - honours he will be stripped of should the International Cycling Union suspend him - and Martin said: "I am totally angry. There is a double standard being applied.
"That is a scandal and he should at least not have been allowed in the World Championships."
Martin added that he had the "impression there is wheeling and dealing going on behind the scenes" and questioned whether Team Sky and Froome were enjoying a "special status".
The crisis deepened for the under-fire British cycling team when it emerged Rupert Murdoch is preparing to sell his stakes in 21st Century Fox and Sky to Disney in a £49billion deal.
It is too early to say if it will mark the end for Team Sky after their dominance of road cycling for the last six years.
While the team have been dogged by doping controversies for more than a year, the seemingly unwavering support of James Murdoch and Sky chief executive Jeremy Darroch has eased the considerable pressure on principal Sir Dave Brailsford.
Sky own 85 per cent of Team Sky with 21st Century Fox owning the other 15 per cent and the futures of James Murdoch and Darroch were unclear on Thursday.
It will be some time before the takeover is complete and by then the Froome situation is sure to be resolved. But as he conceded on Thursday while training in Mallorca, the controversy surrounding the sample he gave on September 7 has already been ‘damaging’.