Week 26 (15 - 21 March 2014)
Since the Festina affair in 1998, sports fans have only had to read the words “doping” and “cycling” in the first paragraph of a story before feeling qualified to write the rest of it themselves.
But this week fans needed to read all the way to the end of the latest doping-related story in cycling to get the true picture, and they may well have been cheered by their findings.
On Wednesday, Team Sky Pro Cycling – with whom Britons Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome have won the last two Tour de France races – announced that they had temporarily withdrawn their Colombian cyclist Sergio Henao from racing.
To hardened cycling fans, this part may have sounded all too familiar but there are some key points of difference to this story.
Firstly, Team Sky’s decision to withdraw Henao was taken solely by the team, without external pressure being applied. Secondly, it was Team Sky’s internal monitoring system that flagged up the discrepancy in the rider’s physiological profile following out-of-season testing at altitude by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
Team Sky’s Team Principal, Dave Brailsford, explained his team’s decision in simple terms in a press release posted on their website:
“Our experts had questions about Sergio’s out-of-competition control tests at altitude - tests introduced this winter by the anti-doping authorities. We needed to understand these readings better.
“We contacted the relevant authorities - the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) and CADF (Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation) - pointed to these readings and asked whether they could give us any insights. We've also taken Sergio out of our race programme whilst we get a better understanding of these profiles and his physiology.
“We want to do the right thing and we want to be fair. It’s important not to jump to conclusions.”
In making the relevant anti-doping authorities aware of Henao’s test results on their own accord, and communicating this to the media, Team Sky have set an example to the rest of the UCI World Tour.
Their actions show that early communication about irregular test results does not necessarily point a finger of blame at anyone. Instead it shows a willingness to openly tackle doping in cycling, including the specifics of what constitutes doping and what does not, in a way that is fair to both the rider and the sport.
Photo (changes made to original): Anita Ritenour