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Ineos owner Jim Ratcliffe indicates that he could pull his sponsorship from the Tour de France winning team if an inquiry shows clean cycling rules were broken.
Ratcliffe took over Team Sky in May ahead of the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France. Egan Bernal helped the team win its seventh Tour title this summer. In the background, however, former Team Sky and British Cycling doctor Richard Freeman is being heard for allegedly ordering testosterone for doping purposes.
British newspaper The Times published an article with Ratcliffe over the weekend with the headline reading, “We’ll leave cycling if rules were broken.”
Ratcliffe mostly applauded the team, which has “the most sophisticated and rigorous [procedures] in the cycling world,” but said his top lawyer is keeping an eye on everything. With money from his multinational chemicals company, he also owns French football club OCG Nice and helped Eliud Kipchoge run a marathon under two hours.
“Our chief counsel, who looks at compliance across Ineos, was responsible for looking at compliance in cycling,” he said. “And if he ever tells me he has a concern, that will be it, done for us. The day any of that enters our world then we would leave cycling. I don’t think it will.”
Freeman admitted he ordered testosterone to the National Cycling Centre. The General Medical Council is hearing him and others in a case that could prove the substance was for one of Sky’s riders.
Freeman had testified that former British Cycling and Team Sky head coach Shane Sutton ‘bullied’ him into ordering testosterone for the treatment of erectile dysfunction. His lawyers also accused Sutton of doping in his career. The hearing is ongoing and its verdict could rock cycling’s top team.
When Ratcliffe took over, he gave the already richest team an even bigger budget. It is around £40 million, according to VeloNews sources.
“We checked all the procedures, everything, doctors’ records. You buy a cycling team, there wasn’t much legal work to do but we spent a lot of time on due diligence on the team,” Ratcliffe continued.
“We had external lawyers do those checks, looking at the procedures, testing. We took it seriously. The regulations when we bought, and the procedures in Team Sky, were the most sophisticated and rigorous in the cycling world.”
Team boss Dave Brailsford would have to deal with any potential evidence of wrong-doing when Freeman and Sutton were under his watch. He is currently recovering from prostate cancer surgery and preparing for the 2020 season with Bernal, Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas, and the team’s other star riders.
Ratcliffe put the weight on Brailsford’s shoulders, but underlined his confidence in the team.
“Dave will have to deal with that side,” Ratcliffe continued. “I am not interested in the history – just our watch and going forward.
“If there are any issues for Dave, he will have to deal with those. There is nothing happening in our team.”