MILAN (VN) — Team Sky’s Colombian climber Sergio Henao was sidelined for a second time by his team Wednesday due to ongoing questions about his biological passport readings. The Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation (CADF) is making formal inquiries about the Colombian’s passport numbers from 2011 to 2015, and Sky pulled him from racing ahead of Wednesday’s Flèche Wallonne.
In a statement released Wednesday, Sky officials confirmed Henao was contacted this week by CADF officials over blood and urine values taken between August 2011 and June 2015. In 2014, Sky voluntarily pulled the 28-year-old from competition because its in-house experts “had questions about Sergio’s out-of-competition control tests at altitude.”
“We recognize why the CADF have raised this issue as it is one we have obviously raised ourselves,” team principal Dave Brailsford said in a statement. “Thus far, Sergio’s data has been anonymous to the CADF experts. We hope and believe they will reach the same conclusions when they consider the background and all the evidence over the coming weeks.”
Sky was quick to point out this was not an anti-doping positive, and that the team voluntarily pulled Henao out of Flèche Wallonne, adding that living at altitude in Colombia may have created odd readings.
“The physiology of ‘altitude natives’ is a complex area,” Brailsford added.
The CADF requested more information about Henao’s numbers and may forward the case to the UCI’s anti-doping tribunal. In the past, Franco Pellizotti, Leif Hoste, and Jonathan Tiernan-Locke served bans involving biological passport cases.
Back in top form following a knee injury, Henao was a favorite for Wednesday’s Flèche Wallonne and Sunday’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège. He is also scheduled to ride the Giro d’Italia in support of Mikel Landa. There was no word on how long the inquiry might take or when Henao might return to racing.
“I am beyond disappointed,” Henao said in a statement. “I have worked incredibly hard to get back to racing fitness after shattering my knee last year — but I know who I am, how hard I have worked and the sacrifices I have made to be where I am today. I am calm and confident that this will be resolved soon so I can get back to racing as soon as possible.”
The UCI has yet to comment, but Team Sky issued the following statement Wednesday morning:
In March 2014, Team Sky took the tough decision to withdraw Sergio Henao from racing for a period of three months.
As we announced at the time, this was as a result of the team’s own internal monitoring of Athlete Biological Passports and in response to Sergio’s initial out-of-competition control tests at altitude in Colombia. These tests were introduced that winter by the anti-doping authorities.
Sergio was born in Colombia and raised in the mountains. He goes back to Colombia during the winter and lives and trains at different altitude levels. The team’s understanding of the effects of such prolonged periods at altitude after returning from sea level has been limited by a lack of scientific research into ‘altitude natives’ such as Sergio.
At the time, Team Sky made this issue public and drew it to the attention of the relevant authorities — the UCI and Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation (CADF) — and asked them for assistance. To aid our understanding of Sergio’s readings, we then commissioned a 10-week research programme led by Dr Eddie Hampton, a consultant haematologist from the University of Sheffield, with other independent scientific experts. This programme involved further randomised blood and urine tests at sea level and altitude, undertaken through WADA accredited laboratories.
After completing their research, the experts had the highest level of confidence that the readings which prompted us to undertake further testing were the athlete’s normal response to altitude. As a result, Sergio returned to racing with Team Sky in June 2014.
Sergio has this week been contacted by the CADF with a request for more information with regards to readings on his Athlete Blood Passport between August 2011 to June 2015. These include the same readings which prompted us to undertake further research in 2014. Given the team had drawn the attention of anti-doping authorities to the issue at the time, this does not come as a surprise.
Sergio has not failed a drug test and the CADF process is conducted confidentially. However, given that we have raised this issue in the past, we feel it is important to set out our latest position.
We continue to support Sergio and remain confident in the independent scientific research which was undertaken. We will be helping Sergio make his case robustly over the coming period. He will also withdraw from racing until the issue is resolved given this contact from the CADF and the very obvious distraction to him. There is no obligation on us to do this, but it is team policy if and when a formal process such as this begins.
We do have to recognise the CADF process going forward so we hope people understand why we will be unable to give further commentary on it over the coming weeks. It is our hope that this can be looked at and resolved quickly by all the relevant authorities so Sergio can start racing again soon.
Dave Brailsford said:
“The physiology of ‘altitude natives’ is a complex area. The science is limited and in recent years we have proactively sought to understand it better by undertaking detailed scientific research — both for Sergio and for the benefit of clean sport more widely. We recognise why the CADF have raised this issue as it is one we have obviously raised ourselves. Thus far Sergio’s data has been anonymous to the CADF experts. We hope and believe they will reach the same conclusions when they consider the background and all the evidence over the coming weeks.
“We believe in Sergio. He has just come back to full fitness after spending eight months recovering from a potentially career ending crash. But we respect the CADF process and will apply our team policy in the circumstances.
“We will continue to support him fully during this period so he can get back to racing as soon as possible.”