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March 19, 2014 – British-based cycling team Sky said Wednesday it was withdrawing Colombian rider Sergio Henao from competition after an internal review led to questions over his blood values. The 26-year-old was born at altitude in Rionegro and still lives and trains in the region.
Now Sky have said Henao will be subject to an “altitude research programme”. It may be there is nothing sinister about Henao’s results.But Sky, who have made great play of their commitment to the fight against doping following several high-profile drugs scandals, including the Lance Armstrong affair, that have damaged the reputation of cycling, have withdrawn Henao from competition for eight weeks. That move means he is unlikely to compete in the season-opening Giro d’Italia, which starts in Belfast on May 9.
“Our experts had questions about Sergio’s out-of-competition control tests at altitude – tests introduced this winter by the anti-doping authorities. We need to understand these readings better,” Sky principal Dave Brailsford told the team’s website.
“We contacted the relevant authorities – the UCI (International Cycling Union) 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 program 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.”
Team Sky’s Tour de France-winning duo of Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome have both been training at altitude, which builds up endurance and so helps to improve performance when cyclists, or indeed long-distance runners, compete at sea level.
However, Brailsford said: “Our own understanding is limited by a lack of scientific research into ‘altitude natives’ such as Sergio. We are commissioning independent scientific research to better understand the effects of prolonged periods at altitude after returning from sea level, specifically on altitude natives. The independent experts are looking to use WADA- (World Anti Doping Agency) accredited laboratories and Team Sky will make the data and findings available to WADA, the UCI and CADF.
“Sergio will help with this programme and we expect him to be out of the race schedule for at least eight weeks. Once we have completed our assessment, we’ll decide on the right steps and give a full update.”
WADA chief executive David Howman, attending the Tackling Doping in Sport conference at London’s Wembley Stadium on Wednesday, called for Sky to share the benefits of their altitude research with doping chiefs.
“I would think they would share it,” he said. “I would think If they’re in a position where they’ve got data that nobody else has got, why wouldn’t they want to share it?
The career of another Team Sky racer, Jonathan Tiernan-Locke, remains uncertain after his blood passport data was found to contain anomalies. The 2012 Tour of Britain winner’s immediate fate now lies with the United Kingdom Anti-Doping Agency.
UKAD chief executive Andy Parkinson said Wednesday a conclusion to the Tiernan-Locke case, which emerged in October, was “imminent, a month or so,” when asked about it at Wembley.
Parkinson added: “Clearly the issue with that case is that it was in the public domain earlier than was ideal, and earlier than we put out a notice of charge.
“The process has seemed longer than it has been because we only received the notification after Christmas. Bio passport cases are difficult; difficult to run and you need a lot of expert witnesses. So we’re co-ordinating all that.