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By Jeremy Whittle
Until Wednesday morning, David Brailsford’s ethical stance on Team GB’s attitude to doping had been unquestioned.
The British team’s Performance Director has long championed clean and fair competition and maintained that any deviation from that philosophy would not be tolerated.
Isn’t UK Sport’s anti-doping program called “100% ME?” Isn’t Bradley Wiggins, once again a world champion in the pursuit and Team GB’s flagship athlete, renowned as a vehement anti-doper? Isn’t Team GB’s new road racing partnership with corporate sponsors Halfords specifically designed to guard against the temptations of doping?
But all of that was momentarily forgotten Wednesday morning when GB’s Rob Hayles, an Olympic, World and Commonwealth Games medalist, failed a UCI hematocrit test.
“Team GB always claimed the moral high ground,” wrote one Dutch journalist. “Not anymore.”
Team GB’s squad was stunned. “It was a huge shock to everyone,” Wiggins said after taking his third individual pursuit title. “People jump to the worst-case scenario, but it’s just one of those things. Rob’s one of the longest serving riders on this programme and one of the cleanest guys around. We all know Rob Hayles and I’ve got absolutely no doubts whatsoever.”
All those within Team GB have rallied around to support Hayles.
“We have not got a systematic doping program,” Brailsford said. “Anybody is welcome to come and see us, be with us, live with us, 24/7 and they will soon figure it out for themselves.”
According to Brailsford, Hayles had been regularly tested by British Cycling’s own internal anti-doping program.
“Rob was tested I think on March 4, for EPO, without any anomalies,” he said. “I am as sure as sure can be that there isn’t an issue with Rob. It’s unfortunate, but I think we will get to the bottom of it.”
In Olympic year, there is a lot at stake for Brailsford and his staff. Much of the dramatic improvement in British fortunes has been attributed to funding from Britain’s national lottery. Certainly if that flow of cash was disrupted the continuing development of Britain’s growing track scene – the same scene that has fuelled the success of athletes such as women’s sprint star, Victoria Pendleton – would be threatened.
For the moment, Wiggins’ gold has silenced the whispering over Hayles and his high hematocrit. But Great Britain, currently the most powerful nation in track racing, has slipped into damage limitation. The British media, disenchanted by road racing, has turned to the track for good news stories. Anomaly or not, Rob Hayles’ failed hematocrit test is the last thing Team GB needed.