IIn that golden decade when Team Sky and British Cycling won just about everything in their sight, their media acolytes often attributed their success to fringe gains, the pursuit of microscopic advantages in countless areas, even washing their hands first. entering a building.
However, a different form of hand washing took place after a medical court in Manchester handed down its guilty verdict against former Team Sky doctor and British cyclist Richard Freeman for ordering banned testosterone “knowing or believing” it was for a Unidentified cyclist.
In a statement released hours after the verdict, Ineos Grenadiers, formerly Team Sky, said Freeman had failed to meet “the ethical standards required of him as a doctor and acted dishonestly” before adding that the “team does not believe that any athlete ever used or sought to use Testogel or any other performance enhancing substance. No evidence has ever been provided that this has ever happened. “
It was an attempt to erase a devastating verdict that will send shockwaves through British sport and move on. But this case is too important for that to happen. And while it may sound strange to say about a court that has already lasted 765 days, this is not the end, not even the beginning of the end. But, borrowing from Winston Churchill, it is perhaps the end of the beginning.
Three crucial questions remain. First, who was the rider? Second, who else knew? And finally, did the success of Team Sky and British Cycling come down to marginal gains, or were the doctors involved as well?
Clearly, Dr Freeman repeatedly lied, including to UK anti-doping researchers about the 2011 testosterone order, although there was no direct evidence in the 46-page summary of the case that he had doped a cyclist. Instead, it appears that the court appears to have decided that Freeman had told so many falsehoods that his claims that he bought 30 sachets of Testogel for Sutton because he was being bullied by him should also be rejected.
The failed cover-up didn’t help. At the end of the General Medical Council’s case against Freeman, Simon Jackson QC painted the picture of an ambitious doctor driven to take risks and prepared to break anti-doping rules to succeed. “There is a truism in life that it is not the lie that gets you, it is the cover-up. And what a cover-up it was, ”Jackson said. It was impossible not to agree.
But seeing Freeman, who has suffered from stress and serious mental problems that delayed the case, in the dock it was hard to believe that he had acted like a lone wolf. In fact, the GMC also seemed to accept this point, claiming that it was working with “sleepers” in Team Sky and British Cycling who had prior knowledge of doping.
Mind also goes back to the incident that started this sinister affair: the mysterious “Jiffy bag” delivered from British Cycling’s Manchester headquarters to the Team Sky bus at the Critérium du Dauphiné 2011. We are still not sure what it contained, despite that Sir Dave Brailsford told Parliament that it contained Fluimucil, a legal decongestant.
Interestingly, we never heard from Brailsford at this hearing, despite the fact that he led both organizations in 2011. In fact, Freeman’s QC, Mary O’Rourke, noted that Brailsford was “the missing specter in these proceedings.” It was an evocative image and a good point. As she said, he “could have answered a lot of questions about what was going on in British Cycling and Team Sky. However, he was never called. “
The court also reinforced the feeling that the optimistic outlook for marginal earnings was quite different from reality. Not only did Freeman not keep medical records, he lost or destroyed several laptops. He also claimed not to know the benefits of testosterone, despite being one of the leading sports doctors in the country, and said he was “not aware” of the World Anti-Doping Code related to the possession of prohibited substances.
Steve Peters, head of science at British Cycling, also showed a surprising lack of curiosity by not asking why Testogel had been ordered to go to the velodrome, after being briefed on the package by physical therapist Phil Burt, while Shane Sutton, the head coach, spent £ 6,000 of British Cycling’s money on cosmetic dentistry and was charged by the court with “engaging in bullying behavior”. For the supposedly Rolls-Royce organizations, British Cycling and Team Sky had more than a hint of Del Boy.
The court made it clear in its summary that Sutton was a credible witness and did not require testosterone to treat erectile dysfunction. However, during the case he heard testimonies that he had doped as a cyclist in 1987, something that Sutton denies, while O’Rourke also suggested: “A possibility [for the Testogel] it’s that Sutton was getting it for nefarious purposes and he had a cyclist he was training who loved him. “
In a statement after the guilty verdict, Sutton emphasized that neither he nor Brailsford knew about the testosterone order. “I think it’s important to find out who the doctor prescribed it for,” Sutton added. “Hopefully that will emerge from the UK Anti-Doping investigation.” On that, at least, most parties will agree.
It was Sutton, of course, who provided the most shocking moment of the hearings, when he denied using Testogel for impotence. “I would have no problem telling you it was for me,” he said. “You’re telling the press that I can’t get tough, my wife wants to testify that you are a fucking liar.”
Frustratingly, there were other interesting lines of research that were not pursued. O’Rourke, for example, revealed that he had written to MP Damian Collins, the author of a damning report from the sports, culture and digital media selection committee about British Cycling and Team Sky, because he had been “led to believe that he received a quantity of information that was not published and that was related to Mr. Sutton ”.
He also claimed that the Daily Mail had a “witness statement or affidavit” signed by Sutton.
That was kept in the newspaper’s editor-in-chief’s safe as “an insurance policy against possible libel claims by Sir Bradley Wiggins, Freeman or Sir Dave Brailsford.” But again, we didn’t get any further.
Despite the guilty verdict, it was also difficult not to feel some sympathy for Freeman, especially when he detailed how the pressure of the allegations against him had taken its toll when he met with Sky bosses at Canary Wharf in 2017. “I was alone, living alone, isolated, “he told the court. “I started drinking again, taking more sedative medications. I was on a slippery slope. I had to present evidence to the DCMS selection committee, but found it very overwhelming.
“I went to see James Murdoch and Team Sky with Mr. Eastwood to receive information in an imposing building in Canary Wharf. Mike Morgan was there, he’s a great sports law person, and Rupert Murdoch’s lawyer came from Australia. It was very tense. Pressurized They wanted to know how I would answer certain questions. I burst into tears and couldn’t go on. “
There was at least a bit of symmetry on Friday, as a story that began with revelations about the delivery of a Jiffy bag to the Team Sky bus, ended with its former head doctor staying under one.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism