Senior officials at British Cycling proposed establishing an internal ‘early warning system’ that might help them flag up cheating riders in early 2016 as preparations for the Rio Olympics intensified, Sportsmail can reveal.
Sources say the proposal was discussed by figures including Andy Harrison, Programmes Director at British Cycling, Shane Sutton, then head coach, plus Dr Richard Freeman and assorted other staff who were copied into internal correspondence.
The proposal was put to British Cycling’s sports and ethics commission, which discussed the matter and agreed to ask the UK Anti-Doping Agency for access to riders’ Athlete Biological Passport data.
Discussions were held prior to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio for British Cycling to set-up an internal ‘early warning system’ in a bid to flag up cheating riders to senior management
UKAD ultimately said they were not at liberty to share this information due to privacy and data laws, so the scheme did not go ahead.
The idea for the plan was rooted in the way in which the global governing body of cycling, the UCI, had traditionally allowed cycling teams, including Team Sky, to have their own early warning systems.
Team Sky and British Cycling shared common personnel over many years, including Sutton, Freeman and Dave Brailsford.
British Cycling has come under renewed scrutiny in recent weeks after Freeman was struck off as a doctor – pending appeal – after a General Medical Council tribunal found him guilty of ordering banned testosterone in 2011, knowing or believing it was to dope a rider.
Freeman maintained his innocence through the tribunal and no direct evidence of a doped rider was produced during the proceedings.
Back in 2014, Team Sky’s internal monitoring flagged up anomalous blood values in one of their riders, the Colombian climber, Sergio Henao.
The UCI said at the time: ‘As a matter of principle we are supportive of teams pursuing a policy of closely monitoring their athletes. This is something that has been monitored by the team. This is their own programme and that’s very important.’
Dr Richard Freeman, who was recently struck off as a doctor following a tribunal, was among those to have the discussions in 2016, Sportsmail can reveal
Sportsmail can reveal today that when Team Sky first noted Henao’s anomalous blood levels, they held a crisis tele-conference involving senior Team Sky personnel, including Brailsford, as well as representatives from the UCI and UKAD, and the Swiss-based Cycling Anti-Doping Federation that was effectively the anti-doping arm of the UCI.
Team Sky argued in that meeting that they were in a difficult position in regards to Henao to understand his anomalous readings, and further studies were needed to see if they could be explained by him being an ‘altitude native’.
Team Sky also said in that meeting they had three options, all unpalatable: let Henao keep racing but face reputational damage if he was subsequently found to be cheating; suspend him; or sack him.
In the event, he was suspended by Team Sky as a study was conducted into blood values of people who grew up in high-altitude environments, or ‘altitude natives’.
This work was undertaken by researchers at the University of Sheffield with input from the Colombian anti-doping agency. The findings were shared with WADA and the UCI.
Henao was by this time out injured following a crash but returned to competition in 2015.
Fast forward to 2016 and British Cycling were keen to have their own internal ‘alert system’ for their Olympic riders, similar to the one that road cycling teams including Team Sky were allowed to have.
Freeman, with the agreement of Harrison, circulated an email in January of that year saying: ‘I agree that we put a proposal to the [BC sports and ethics] commission re the [ABP].’
UKAD said they were not at liberty to share information due to riders’ privacy and data laws
He suggested asking each rider on the ABP monitoring programme to submit their monthly ABP test results on a voluntary basis to him ‘for statistical analysis similar to that performed by the anti-doping agencies. This is an opportunity to assess frequency of testing and give warning of target testing.’
Freeman further wrote that this would allow BC to provide monthly reports on their riders that would be coded either green (no concerns), amber (some concerns) or red (get ready for a possible adverse passport finding by UKAD or the UCI).
Freeman concluded there would be benefits to both riders and BC ‘in having this monitoring of the ABP, allowing early detection in fluctuations of the riders ABP.’
The commission approved the proposal and it was put forward to UKAD, who, after some back and forth, explained they wouldn’t share ABP data. The plan was ditched.
As the Sportsmail revealed at the weekend, UKAD are currently under investigation by WADA for effectively allowing BC to conduct private internal investigations and urine testing in a non-WADA lab in 2011 following an anomalous test sample by a British rider in late 2010.