Cookson sceptical about doctor’s doping claims in undercover investigation

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Responding to an investigation by the Sunday Times which quoted a doctor as saying that he had given banned substances to 150 elite sportspeople, UCI president Brian Cookson has expressed scepticism.

“I saw that article,” Cookson confirmed to CyclingTips prior to the start of the Ronde Van Vlaanderen [Tour of Flanders] on Sunday morning. “It looks to me highly dubious set of claims from this doctor, who I believe is under some sort of disciplinary hearing from the general medical council himself. I don’t know anything other than what I saw on the internet this morning.”

The claims about the doctor were the result of an undercover investigation. A reporter posed as an athlete trying to secure a place on the British Olympic team and visited the physician, Dr. Mark Bonar.

He secretly filmed the consultation. During that visit, the 38-year-old doctor told undercover reporters that he had prescribed banned performance-enhancing drugs to a very high number of sportspeople.

He said that these included British Tour de France cyclists, an England cricketer, a British boxing champion, tennis players, martial arts competitors, and Premier League footballers.

As part of these interventions, he claimed that he had prescribed or administered banned substances such as erythropoietin (EPO), steroids and human growth hormone. He described the performance improvements as “phenomenal.”

UK Anti Doping was originally made aware of the doctor two years ago by an amateur cyclist facing a ban and seeking a reduction. He provided documentation which showed he was prescribed banned substances, yet UKAD said the evidence was of “little or no value.” It also said that had no jurisdiction over the doctor.

However it didn’t pass on the information to the General Medical Council (GMC), which could have acted.

Responding to the story, British Culture Secretary John Whittingdale ordered an inquiry into UKAD. He described himself as “shocked and deeply concerned” by the revelations and suggested that UKAD’s chief executive Nicole Sapstead should resign.

Although Cookson’s initial response was sceptical, he said that the UCI would await further information.

“Let’s see what happens,” he told CyclingTips. “If there any substance to it, then of course it will be acted upon by UK Anti Doping, ourselves, and all the other relevant authorities of course.”

Van den Driessche decision coming soon

On a separate matter, Cookson also gave an update on to the Femke Van den Driessche situation. The young Belgian was plunged into controversy on January 30 when a bike check at the under 23 race at the cyclocross worlds determined it had a hidden motor. It was in her pit area in the race and would have presumably be used during the event.

She said at the time that the bike used to be hers but that she sold it to a family friend. She added that he had put a motor in unbeknownst to her, and that his bike was taken by accident by her helpers to the race in question.

She was due to appear before the UCI disciplinary commission on March 15. One day before that, she said she was walking away from the sport as she didn’t believe it was possible to win the case. She also said that it was too expensive to defend herself.

The commission met anyway and, according to Cookson, the decision is set to be announced very soon.

“I will be expecting a decision form the disciplinary commission within the next seven to ten days,” he said. “The commission held its hearing and they are going to render a detailed judgement very shortly.”

Since the case was uncovered the UCI has stepped up its screening of bikes. It currently using a programme on a computer tablet to scan the machines. This is thought to detect magnetic resistance.

Cookson described it as ‘very, very effective indeed,’ but said that the UCI was also looking at different methods of detection too.

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