Tor appointment Monty Python’s Flying Circus, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. And until recently, few would have imagined that the General Medical Council’s Court Service could play a decisive role in a scandal that has involved the UK’s most prolific Olympic sport and its Sky and now Ineos-backed pro team. But then the last 23 years of doping scandals have taken cycling to strange places.
However, at the end of Dr. Richard Freeman’s fitness marathon to practice audition, any element of surprise was missing. Given the inadequacy of Freeman’s explanations, his destruction of evidence, and the persistent cutting and turning of his story, there was perfect logic to the verdict that, on the balance of probability, he had acquired the prohibited drug testosterone “knowing or believing it was for ”An anonymous athlete. It now faces more audiences and an anti-doping investigation in the UK, which between them will keep this narrative lurching for quite some time.
Anyone can guess where the Freeman saga is heading now, but that’s part of its twisted course. This has been the reality of cycling since the night of July 1998 when customs officials stopped Festina soigneur Willy Voet in Chemin du Dronckaert, a back lane on the Franco-Belgian border. Each of cycling’s biggest doping stories since then has been different, an underworld in which cheaters move the goalposts and various powers that be catching up. Every now and then, that underworld is exposed to light.
Compared to the stories of Festina, Lance Armstrong, and Operation Puerto’s massive blood doping investigation, the Freeman saga smells more of pushing the margins than is permissible; the use of triamcinolone with therapeutic use exemptions was, legally if not morally, on one side of the line, the purchase of testosterone on the other. But the usual sense of impunity, denial and hypocrisy is there, especially since Freeman worked for teams that were based on strong anti-doping principles that were yelling from the rooftops.
Freeman’s story may now fade. Although Sir Dave Brailsford’s aptitude to continue as Ineos boss will be rightly questioned, as it has been since 2017, he and the team will present a dead bat to questions: They have said they are convinced that no athlete received Testogel. That is despite GMC’s conclusion to the contrary, although the weight of its condemnation is for the outside world to judge.
Ukad’s investigation could be crippled by a lack of more information, reluctant witnesses, and limited investigative powers – the same obstacles that prevented any firm conclusion to the controversial question of what was in the “Jiffy bag” sent to Team Sky at the Critérium du Dauphiné of 2011..
The sports world would then be left with the “probability balance” of the GMC ruling to accompany the 2018 report of the select committee of digital, cultural, media and sports deputies that included Brailsford, British Cycling and Team Sky. Both may seem damning to neutrals, but in the absence of a firm doping conviction, they provide room for maneuver. Compare and contrast the tight lines of witnesses who lined up in 2012 to testify that yes, Lance Armstrong actually did dope, dope, and then dope some more just in case. The sight of Brailsford writhing may not appeal to anyone, but whatever loose ends are untied, it may prove enough to keep his corporate sponsors aside as he has in the past.
This is a scenario. The history of cycling doping scandals suggests that it is far from a fact. The mystery rider is the immediate focus of attention, but for Ukad the process should be as interesting as the result.
From the evidence in the DCMS investigation and Freeman’s audience it is clear that during the winter of 2010-11 there was a change in Team Sky’s philosophy. The idealism that existed in 2010 was pushed aside, the policy of not hiring doctors from the cycling world was secretly scrapped and transformed into a legally injected “recovery”.
It came down to a decision to extend the “fringe gains” policy to gray areas. A key question for Ukad should be how and who drove that process and what role it played in the chain of events that included the acquisition of triamcinolone and testosterone, the Jiffy bag, leading us to Friday’s verdict.
The human factor has changed the rules of the game in the scandals that have affected cycling over the years. Festina gained traction largely due to momentum judge, Patrick Keil, backed by a motivated French sports minister, Marie-George Buffet. Armstrong was untouchable and his case hinged on the fight that led to former teammate Floyd Landis changing the state evidence after Armstrong denied him a spot on the team. That, in turn, led to a series of new confessions. If Big Tex had pleased his old friend, he could still be a seven-time Tour de France winner to this day.
Freeman is not an innocent victim in this, according to the GMC ruling. However, if you feel you have nothing else to lose, and decide to name names and go into detail about who knew what and when, and who was given what and when … you’ve already written a book; now there is more material for an editor.
Since someone close to the center of the action told the Daily mail On the story of the Jiffy bag in October 2016, the narrative has been fueled by targeted leaks, backstabbing and reckoning. If that continues, Friday’s ruling could be seen as a halfway point in history, rather than a messy conclusion.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism