On the eve of one of the biggest races of the year, the Tour de Yorkshire, the crisis in British cycling deepened on Thursday night as the former world points race champion Simon Yates was confirmed as having an adverse analytical finding in a drugs test in March through what appeared to be an error in procedure when using a drug for a medical condition on prescription.
Elsewhere the governing body stood accused of failing to act on multiple warnings about the behaviour of the former technical director Shane Sutton, who resigned on Wednesday following allegations of sexism, bullying and inappropriate behaviour towards the Paralympic racers in the squad.
A statement from Yates’s team Orica-GreenEdge confirmed that the Bury racer had tested positive for the anti-asthma drug Terbutaline after stage six of the Paris-Nice “Race to the Sun” on 12 March. The team offered the explanation that the substance was part of an asthma treatment but that the team doctor had failed to apply for a Therapeutic Use Exemption, or TUE, which would have cleared the rider to use the substance for legitimate medical reasons. “The substance was given to Simon Yates in the form of an asthma inhaler and accordingly this was noted by the team doctor on the doping control form signed at the time of the test,” said a statement from the team.
“The substance was given in an ongoing treatment of Simon Yates’s documented asthma problems. However, in this case the team doctor made an administrative error by failing to apply for the TUE required for the use of this treatment.
“The use of Terbutaline without a current TUE is the reason it has been flagged as an adverse analytical finding. This is solely based on a human error that the doctor in question has taken full responsibility for. There has been no wrongdoing on Simon Yates’s part. The team takes full responsibility for this mistake and wishes to underline their support for Simon during this process. The team is concerned by the leak of this information and has no further comments until there has been a full evaluation of the documentation, statements and evidence that the team and Simon Yates are submitting to the UCI in order to clarify everything.”
Terbutaline is a fast-acting bronchial dilator, used for rapid treatment of asthma symptoms and to delay premature labour, which is banned in sport except when taken via an inhaler and with the appropriate TUE to confirm that the athlete in question has medical cause to ingest the substance.
The news of Yates’s test came amid a tumultuous week for British cycling, with Sutton quitting on Wednesday as technical director. The Guardian has spoken to several former and current British Cycling staff and the accusations of inaction over Sutton’s behaviour date back at least to 2007. Ian Drake, British Cycling’s current chief executive, had allegedly been informed about Sutton’s conduct during an unfair-dismissal procedure involving the former Paralympic head coach David Mellor, whose case was settled out of court. Documents from Mellor’s evidence shown to the Guardian cited an episode in which Sutton was described as coming to the coach’s office and shouting “get those fucking gimps off the track”.
Drake said: “I have never been made aware, formally or informally, of any allegation that Shane Sutton had used the offensive term ‘gimps’ in reference to Paralympic athletes prior to the media reports of the past few days. The suggestion that I would have not acted on such an allegation is wholly wrong.”
Mellor said the episode had taken place after a Paralympic cyclist had wobbled on his bike during a warm-up behind a motorbike shared with able-bodied cyclists. In an email to the Guardian Mellor said: “‘Get those Fucking Gimps’ was a phrase that was used by Shane [Sutton] and I confirm was ignored by Ian Drake when raised by me.”
Mellor also stated that in his view the Paralympic athletes were discriminated against when it came to resources, for example travelling at times without a doctor or, on one occasion, being asked to scrap a training camp when the able‑bodied team’s budget fell short. The governing body did not comment further on the allegations.
Drake is under growing pressure to reveal what he knew about the “culture of fear” which is alleged to have prevailed in the National Cycling Centre under Sutton. Two sources told the Press Association that Drake was aware of claims of bullying and discrimination against Sutton and did not act. Several separate sources have described how Sutton was “sacked” after the Beijing Olympics but reinstated.
British Cycling is also fending off claims that it is covering up a report into the programme’s structure carried out after London 2012, where staff claim concerns over Sutton’s approach were raised. The report was carried out by the former British Cycling chief executive Peter King, who told the Guardian he had conducted interviews with “about two‑thirds” of the team personnel from Dave Brailsford to the stores man and included riders. King said that the report was delivered on 11 November 2012 and “did not identify any individual either positively or negatively. There was no personalisation of any of the comments in the report.”
British Cycling’s current team doctor, Richard Freeman, told the Guardian the report was “an opportunity missed”.
“We never got the results in spite of various requests to see it. Nothing changed,” he said. Freeman says he saw the report as “an attempt to change the culture because we feared it would get worse if Dave Brailsford left”.
However, the Guardian has been told by a former staff member who contributed to the report that he had flagged up serious concerns about bullying of one particular staff member who subsequently left the team – and misappropriation of British Cycling resources in the report. He states that he categorically warned Drake about appointing Sutton as technical director.
A second staff member, still on British Cycling’s books, told the Guardian he had expressed serious reservations about Sutton’s conduct in the report and said the lack of action “reinforced the culture of fear and blame”.
King said that, had the individuals concerned felt so strongly, their comments “should have been made as formal complaints” but staffers contacted by the Guardian said this was never offered as an option. A statement from the governing body said: “British Cycling conducted a comprehensive structural review after London 2012 to look at how we could build on that success. The report will now be made available to the independent review led by UK Sport. Until the review is concluded we cannot comment any further.”
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