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by Shane Stokes
April 20, 2016
Photography by Cor Vos
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Team Sky climber Sergio Henao has been sidelined by his team after the Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation (CADF) notified the rider about blood values tracked over a four year period.
Team Sky announced the news on its website on Wednesday, saying that the Colombian would be sidelined while it worked with him to prove his innocence.
The CADF enquiry is in relation to the athlete’s biological passport and levels tracked between August 2011 and June of last year. It is indicative that it may be investigating the rider for possible blood manipulations.
Team Sky had previously made his bio passport the subject of discussion just over two years ago when it announced that it had temporarily suspended him from competition. It followed a March 2014 story by La Gazzetta dello Sport, which reported that the Colombian had been sidelined due to unexplained blood readings.
Team Sky’s response at the time acknowledged that this was the case and said that experts conducting internal monitoring of riders had raised questions about the rider’s out of competition values at altitude.
Team Principal Dave Brailsford said then that the team had contacted the UCI and the Cycling Anti Doping Foundation [CADF] over the matter, and that independent scientific research would be commissioned to ‘better understand the effects of prolonged periods at altitude after returning from sea level, specifically on altitude natives.’
He added that the results from the study would be made available to WADA, the UCI and the CADF.
In June 2014 the team then announced that the scientific experts had concluded their ten week assessment and had given ‘the highest level of confidence in Sergio’s previous data and profiles.’
It added that it believed the study would give important insights into the physiology of altitude natives, and said a scientific research paper would be published in the months ahead.
In June 2015, one year after that committment, CyclingTips contacted the University of Sheffield to ask about the delay in publication. Dr Eddie Hampton, who had led the research, said that work was continuing and that the research paper was pending.
“The research around this case has been taken very seriously and we undertook a large amount of complex scientific analysis before giving our recommendation for Sergio to be allowed to return to racing,” he stated on June 24th.
“It’s still our intention to publish the results in the scientific literature. There are many processes to take into account when you write and publish scientific papers and delays of over a year are not unusual in these cases. We hope it can be done as soon as possible.”
Ten months on, and 22 months after the rider was cleared to return to competition, that publication has still not occurred.
Henao’s blood values became the subject of attention again on Wednesday when Sky announced that the CADF were scrutinising his values.
“Sergio has this week been contacted by the CADF with a request for more information with regards to readings on his Athlete Blood Passport between August 2011 to June 2015,” it said. “These include the same readings which prompted us to undertake further research in 2014. Given the team had drawn the attention of anti-doping authorities to the issue at the time, this does not come as a surprise.
“Sergio has not failed a drug test and the CADF process is conducted confidentially. However, given that we have raised this issue in the past, we feel it is important to set out our latest position.
“We continue to support Sergio and remain confident in the independent scientific research which was undertaken. We will be helping Sergio make his case robustly over the coming period. He will also withdraw from racing until the issue is resolved given this contact from the CADF and the very obvious distraction to him. There is no obligation on us to do this but it is team policy if and when a formal process such as this begins.”
The team said that because of the CADF process, it would be unable to comment further on the matter at this point in time. However it added that it hoped that it would be resolved as soon as possible at that the rider will be able to return to competition soon.
“I am beyond disappointed,” said Henao in that statement. “I have worked incredibly hard to get back to racing fitness after shattering my knee last year – but I know who I am, how hard I have worked and the sacrifices I have made to be where I am today.
“I am calm and confident that this will be resolved soon so I can get back to racing as soon as possible.”
Brailsford described the physiology of altitude natives as a complex area. “The science is limited and in recent years we have proactively sought to understand it better by undertaking detailed scientific research – both for Sergio and for the benefit of clean sport more widely.
“We recognise why the CADF have raised this issue as it is one we have obviously raised ourselves. Thus far Sergio’s data has been anonymous to the CADF experts. We hope and believe they will reach the same conclusions when they consider the background and all the evidence over the coming weeks.”
He did not address the delay in publishing the research concluded almost two years ago.
Brailsford said that the team is fully in support of Henao.
“We believe in Sergio. He has just come back to full fitness after spending eight months recovering from a potentially career ending crash. But we respect the CADF process and will apply our team policy in the circumstances.
“We will continue to support him fully during this period so he can get back to racing as soon as possible.”|