Sergio Henao has been removed from Team Sky's racing programme due questions surrounding the rider's out-of-competition tests at altitude. According to the team Henao will undergo what they have described as an altitude research programme.
"In our latest monthly review, our experts had questions about Sergio's out-of-competition control tests at altitude - tests introduced this winter by the anti-doping authorities. We need to understand these readings better," team manager Dave Brailsford said in a team press release.
The announcement comes after Gazzetta dello Sport quoted Henao's agent as saying that his rider was off the racing roster, due to anomalous values. Henao will now go back to his native Colombia, to undergo further testing to understand the significance of these levels.
This morning Team Sky confirmed to Cyclingnews that they drew the UCI's attention to the matter after Henao competed in the Tour of Oman. This was his last race with the team.
"We contacted the relevant authorities - the UCI and CADF – pointed to these readings and asked whether they could give us any insights," Brailsford added in the team’s press statement. "We've also taken Sergio out of our race programme whilst we get a better understanding of these profiles and his physiology. We want to do the right thing and we want to be fair. It’s important not to jump to conclusions."
The values in question come from a test done in October when Henao was back in Colombia, as part of the UCI's out-of-competition testing programme.
Henao lives at altitude in Riogengro, Colombia. Sky says that they are looking into the physiological affects that has on the body. "We are commissioning independent scientific research to better understand the effects of prolonged periods at altitude after returning from sea level, specifically on altitude natives," explained Brailsford.
"Sergio will help with this programme and we expect him to be out of the race schedule for at least eight weeks. Once we have completed our assessment, we’ll decide on the right steps and give a full update."
The Colombian was due to race at Tirreno-Adriatico last week, but didn't take to the start line. His last race was the Tour of Oman, where he finished seventh, just over a minute behind his team leader Chris Froome. The eight-week time frame means that he could return in May, missing the Vuelta a País Vasco next month. He is due to ride the Critérium du Dauphiné and make his debut at the Tour de France this summer.
Henao is the second Sky rider, in the last 6 months, to give anomalous results. Jonathan Tiernan-Locke pulled out of the World Championships last September due to a UCI investigation into anomalies on his biological passport. Sky say that these findings came from his time on the Endura racing team in 2012. The Tiernan-Locke case is still in progress and the British rider is yet to race this season.
The UCI respond
Cyclingnews contacted the UCI for a response. The sport's governing body confirmed that they had been notified of the situation in the last few days but would not give a specific date
"The UCI does not comment on individual cases but as a matter of principle we are supportive of teams pursuing a policy of closely monitoring their athletes," a UCI spokesperson told Cyclingnews.
"This is something that has been monitored by the team," they added.
"This is their own programme and that’s very important because that’s why we're supportive of their programme and the approach to it and to suspend the rider. The monitoring and the programme is a matter for them."
"If a team has any concerns, then the appropriate course of action may well be to withdraw him from its race schedule whilst it continues its investigations."
When asked if the UCI would study Henao's blood passport or hand over the data to the team, the UCI said, "If they request, then why not? The press release says clearly they will do further research on their own. We don’t exclude it but it depends on them and whether they request additional help."