UK cycling doctor ordered drug in doping case
The former doctor to some of Britain’s most successful cyclists and teams was convicted on Friday of ordering a banned drug he knew would be used to improve a rider’s performance.
The ruling, an astonishing end to one of the most high-profile doping cases in cycling since the Lance Armstrong drug scandal nearly destroyed the sport’s credibility nearly a decade ago, has raised new doubts on the successes and methods of some of the best cyclists in the world. of the last decade.
The doctor, Richard Freeman, has worked for the Tour de France-winning team Sky, as well as the British Cycling Federation, which oversees the country’s Olympic program. He was convicted by the UK Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service of ordering testosterone, a steroid, for an unnamed runner in 2011. The court said Freeman had done so “knowing or believing” that the medication would be used to help a runner or his team win.
The court also said Freeman, Team Sky’s senior physician from 2010 to 2016, concocted a series of lies to cover up both the purchase of the drug and its intended use.
The case had dragged on for two years and it continues to raise serious questions about Team Sky, now called Grenadiers Ineos, which is one of the most dominant teams in cycling history and has hosted champions like Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins.
Now inundated with doping accusations, the team have been compared to Armstrong’s United States Postal Service team because of their streak of international successes and the depth of the top runners on their rosters – but also because of lingering doubts about the methods that might have fueled them.
“The discovery that the delivery of testosterone gel in 2011 was intended for the illegal enhancement of a cyclist’s performance is extremely worrying,” said British Cycling Managing Director Brian Facer, said in a press release. Facer said the organization would leave any “further action” related to the case in the hands of UK anti-doping officials, “whose work will enjoy our full support.”
Freeman was a staple of UK cycling teams for years as the country and its riders rose to the top of the sport. He worked for British Cycling from 2010 to 2017 and was part of the organization’s concerted effort to invest in the sport before Britain hosted the 2012 Olympics in London.
The investment paid off: British riders led the cycling medal tally in London, with 12 medals, including eight gold – double the total won by Germany, the team that placed second in the cycling medals table. Britain repeated their success at the Rio 2016 Games, winning a dozen more medals, including six gold.
In 2012, a year after Freeman was accused of receiving a shipment of testosterone, Team Sky won their first Tour de France, with Wiggins triumphantly descending the Champs-Elysees in Paris as his teammates celebrated around him. This scene would almost become an annual event: By 2019, the British team have won the Tour seven times in eight years. Froome has finished on the podium four times.
The success of British teams and British riders in major international competitions has been credited with launching a cycling boom in England. But as is often the case in sport, the team’s dominance also raised doubts about how their runners got so good and so fast. In the case of Team Sky, speculation about possible drug use by the team has been supported by evidence.
In the latter case, Freeman, who admitted to obtaining testosterone and lied to UK anti-doping officials about it, initially said he had not ordered the drug and the company had committed an error sending it to the team. Then he admitted to ordering it, but claimed he was bullied by UK cycling and Team Sky coach Shane Sutton. Freeman said Sutton requested the drug to treat his erectile dysfunction.
The court called Freeman’s allegation an “elaborate lie,” although the doctor continues to assert its truth.
Sutton vehemently denied Freeman’s claim. In a statement to the Daily Mail on Friday, he said he was disappointed Freeman had used him as a scapegoat.
“I want to point out that neither I nor Sir Dave Brailsford knew about the testosterone order,” said Sutton, referring to the longtime manager of Team Sky and the former performance director of British Cycling. “But I think it’s important to know who the doctor prescribed it to. I hope this will emerge from the UK Anti-Doping investigation. “
UK Anti-Doping, which oversees anti-doping efforts in Britain, announced on Friday it had charged Freeman with possession of banned substances and tampering or attempted tampering with doping controls. Freeman has been provisionally suspended pending an investigation, the agency said in a statement.
This investigation is expected to look into the possible use of testosterone by Team Sky, which the court described Friday as “doping drug of choice”. The drug has been used in cycling for decades, in forms such as injections, pills, creams and gels, to improve recovery, and it has long been banned as a performance enhancing substance.
Testosterone is so effective in helping cyclists bounce back from strenuous efforts, however, that some still use it despite the risk of testing positive. Floyd Landis used it to help him win the 2006 Tour de France, but he later tested positive and was stripped of the victory.
Testosterone is just one of the drugs that Team Sky runners have been accused of using to improve performance. In 2016, Russian hackers broke into a World Anti-Doping Agency system that tracks approvals for the use of banned drugs by athletes, known as therapeutic drug exemptions; the hack revealed that both Wiggins and Froome had consumed drugs, including corticosteroids, during the race for Team Sky.
A subsequent report from a UK parliamentary committee suggested that Wiggins had used a potent corticosteroid prior to his 2012 Tour victory not for medical reasons (he claimed it was for asthma), but to improve his condition. weight / power ratio. A light but strong pilot would have an easier time climbing steep mountains than a heavier pilot. Wiggins denied using the drug to improve his performance, and he spent years explaining these and other doping accusations.
In 2016, UK Anti-Doping opened an investigation into a package delivered to Team Sky, allegedly destined for Wiggins, in the weeks leading up to Wiggins’ Tour de France victory this summer. But the agency couldn’t verify the contents of that package, in part because Freeman claimed his laptop with the team’s medical records was stolen while he was on vacation.
Britain’s anti-doping declined to discuss Friday’s finding against Freeman other than acknowledging the decision.
“We have no plans to make any further comments at this time,” the agency said in a statement.