Armitstead: ‘I can only tell you that I am a clean athlete and an honest person’

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News broke yesterday that Armitstead’s absence at recent Women’s WorldTour events was due to a provisional suspension after being charged by the UK Anti-Doping agency for three missed anti-doping tests. The 27-year-old world champion faced a ban that would leave her out of the Olympic Games and out of competition for at least two years.

Armitstead and a legal team funded by British Cycling appealed UKAD’s charge at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), and successfully had the first of the three violations removed from her record, thereby lifting her suspension.

While Armitstead breathes a sigh of relief and heads to Rio, most of us were left with a series of questions:

– The first missed anti-doping test, dating back to August 2015, appears to have been an error on the doping control officer’s part. So why did she not contest the violation at that time?

– Missed anti-doping tests are not uncommon. But three missed tests in one year is. How did she let two additional violations happen, knowing that the penalty is severe and could damage her reputation and career?

Having kept quiet since the suspension started on July 11, Armitstead today spoke to Daily Mail in response to some of these questions.

“I’m one of the most tested athletes in the world. I’ve been tested at least 16 times this year. The hardest thing about this situation is that there will be people who will always have doubts about my performances,” she told the Daily Mail. “My victories and dominance this year are a result of hard work, a fantastic cycling team and some incredible individuals who believe in me. I can only tell you that I am a clean athlete and an honest person.”

Armitstead’s first violation dates back to August 2015 during the World Cup race in Sweden when a doping control officer visited her hotel at 6 a.m. Failing to give the hotel reception his credentials or reason for visiting,  the receptionist refused to give the doping control officer Armitstead’s  room number. When Armitstead did not respond to the officer phone call, as her phone was on silent in respect of her roommate, the officer left and filed a missed test. Armitstead did get tested the following day and the result was negative.

At the time Armitstead did not appeal the charge.

“I did think about [appealing the first missed test]. It was my first strike and it was very close to the World Championships, so I was travelling to America. I also didn’t have the legal advice. It felt very much them against me. I was very naive. I went ahead to the World Championships and I didn’t want the distraction,” Armitstead said.

In the appeal last week, CAS ruled that there was no negligence on Armitstead’s part and that first violation was dropped. Two more followed, however, October 5, 2015 and June 9, 2016.

“The filing failure in October I take responsibility for,” Armitstead said. “It was just after becoming world champion and I was spinning too many plates and one fell off. I was seeing family and friends that I had not seen for months, I was in holiday mode, I was absolutely not trying to deceive anybody. Since then, extra precautions have been put in place around increased diligence and care and my priority is “whereabouts”.’

Yet in June, she got her third strike when she missed another anti-doping test while dealing with a serious illness within her family.

“The third one was out of character and under extraordinary circumstances,” she said. “I expected to receive something having missed a test on June 9. I was just waiting for a letter.”

The waiting time, court case and suspension has been an extremely stressful time for Armitstead.

“I felt like I was standing on a cliff and I was going to fall off the edge. It was more than just missing the Olympics in Rio. It was everything else. It was what was going on with my family. I was more concerned about my reputation and people’s understanding of it,” she said.

Despite the stress and suspension, Armitstead continued to prepare for Rio. She’ll leave for Thursday and line up at the Olympic Road Race on Sunday as one of the top favourites.

“I feel incredibly proud of the work I have put in ahead of Sunday’s race despite all this happening to me. It’s been really difficult to concentrate on training, nutrition and recovery — all the little details — but I haven’t let anything slip,” she reassured.

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