Team Sky has reiterated that they are not responsible for publishing the medical report relating to Sergio Henao’s controversial blood profile, which could help explain abnormalities in his values that led the UCI to open an investigation into his Athlete Biological Passport values.
The team commissioned an independent study, run by medical staff at Sheffield University in 2014, in order to analyse the rider’s physiological profile after an internal check spotted abnormalities from a test carried out at the end of 2013. The Colombian was withdrawn from racing in March 2014 while the independent review was carried out but was subsequently reinstated in June of that year. Henao insisted that his blood values differ because he hails from high-altitude Colombia, and travels to sea level and back for extended periods.
Team Sky's study followed Henao for three months, and the findings were passed to relevant anti-doping authorities, including WADA and the UCI, according to Team Sky. The team also stated that the experts would also “seek to publish a full scientific research paper in the coming months.”
Two years on from Henao’s first withdrawal from racing and the situation has been repeated, except for the fact that the CADF - the independent anti-doping arm of the UCI - are the ones looking at Henao’s profile and have told the rider of a “possible anti-doping violation”. The rider was notified by letter earlier this week, and Team Sky subsequently pulled the Colombian from racing for a second time in his career.
The report that led eventually led to Team Sky reinstating Henao in 2014 was conducted by Dr Eddie Hampton, at the University of Sheffield but he was not available for comment when Cyclingnews contacted his office.
“It is they who will be responsible for the timelines of publication,” a Team Sky spokesperson told Cyclingnews via email.
“We commissioned the report due to a lack of available scientific research on altitude natives. The research was carried out independently of Team Sky, under rigorous testing conditions and using WADA accredited laboratories. There are processes that those leading the research will wish to complete before full publication and so it is understandable that this will take time.
“The results of the research were submitted to the anti-doping authorities at the conclusion of the independent testing, which was carried out with their knowledge and after Team Sky made the issue public.”
“Our initial decision to withdraw him in 2014 was one that we took independently, and which was taken so that we could better understand patterns of data from Sergio's Athlete Blood Passport.”
Team Sky refrained to comment on whether they would be willing to publish the findings of the report ahead of any paper appearing in a medical journal, saying, “we can’t really give a commentary on the report or the research now there is a process in place involving Sergio.”
Cyclingnews also contacted the UCI, Thursday, to seek clarification as to whether they had received the initial report from 2014. They refused to comment on the case.
Since Henao's initial case, a study by Yorck O. Schumacher et al published in Drug Testing and Analysis looked at differences in Athlete Biological Passport numbers between altitude natives and sea-level residents racing at the Tour of Qinghai Lake. While they saw some anomalies (high reticulocytes, low OFF score), they concluded that it was "highly unlikely that any of the abnormal values observed in this study would have triggered an antidoping rule violation procedure after the qualitative review of the experts."
The passport procedures
As things stand three UCI biological passport reviewers will have looked at Henao’s profile – although it would have been anonymous - and they would have had four possible conclusions.
“One, the profile could be normal,” says Robin Parisotto, who worked for several years on the UCI panel. “Secondly they could have decided that more data was needed. Thirdly there could be a possible medical abnormality and fourth, there’s a suspicion of doping.”
Providing that the three independent panelists came to the same conclusion, those experts would have a roundtable to confirm and corroborate their case.
“They would then request that the UCI gathers all the information from all of the tests for that profile and then there would be a comprehensive analysis of all the data. So where the tests were carried out, when they got to the lab, chain and custody, all of that. They would then compile a final report, sign off on that and then it would go to the UCI for their assessment at the CADF. They would then notify the athlete if a case was being opened.”
“For me, and from seeing what’s out there, it’s gone past the initial review, the roundtable and the final report. This isn’t a typical situation though, given that it was the team, and the athlete that first approached the UCI with the independent report findings in 2014. What athlete does that?”
On the matter of the delay involving the report, Parisotto, who has had material on blood doping published, said: “I would be concerned that it took two years to publish. It’s unusual but I’m basing my comments on the 2005 paper that was specifically about Lance Armstrong’s physiology. It’s feasible that it could have been published by now if that was their intent. Two years is a concern. Maybe there wasn’t sufficient data to build a paper. There are a few unknowns.”