Chris Froome has suggested insinuations of doping made by former Team Sky coach Shane Sutton – which now include concerns over his power and heart rate data – could be due to his rivalry with Bradley Wiggins.
Sutton raised concerns over Froome's activity with another former team coach, Bobby Julich, in 2012. They were first revealed at Richard Freeman's medical tribunal last year, and elaborated upon in this week's Mail on Sunday newspaper.
At the tribunal, Freeman's lawyer made reference only to "Chris Froome going to Italy on a motorbike", with Julich later saying it was "idiotic" to think there was anything suspicious about that 2011 journey.
The Mail on Sunday has now published Sutton's comments in more detail, revealing that he raised concerns over Froome's power and heart rate data, having compared them with Wiggins'.
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Sutton raised the issue in 2012 as team boss Dave Brailsford conducted interviews with staff to establish possible links to doping in a bid to create a 'zero-tolerance' structure. Unlike Julich, who confessed to doping as a rider and left the team, Sutton denied doping links and stayed on the payroll but did speak up when asked if he had any suspicions of 'active involvement in doping' at Team Sky.
"Bobby’s involvement with Chris Froome," Sutton replied, according to the MoS. "I have heard of allegations of Chris going to Italy on a motorbike.
"I have also looked at training traces and compared them to Bradley. I am looking at heart traces and deciphering the information.
"It’s not just the power rates we are looking at. I was concerned about the data but I have no evidence other than this."
Froome did not comment when the initial allegation surfaced last year, but did do so in the Mail on Sunday's report.
He made reference to his rivalry with Wiggins, which stretches back to the 2011 Vuelta a España when Froome, on the brink of being released by Team Sky, finished a surprise runner-up just ahead of nominal leader Wiggins. Tensions famously emerged at the 2012 Tour de France, which Wiggins won but not before Froome, who would finish runner-up, had briefly but ostentatiously ridden away from his leader on a key mountain stage.
Froome, who then established himself as top dog and went on to win four yellow jerseys, was coached by Julich before his departure, while Wiggins worked closely with Sutton.
"I am not aware of any specific follow-ups, but all the riders on Team Sky were subject to internal reviews of their data on an ongoing basis," Froome said on Sunday.
"I had very little contact with Shane Sutton as he was Brad’s coach. I know Shane wasn’t especially fond of me, particularly at that time. There was an element of internal rivalry as I was challenging for leadership of the team over the rider he coached."
Ineos Grenadiers, as the team is now known, did not comment when Froome's name was dragged into the tribunal last year. Likewise, Sutton refused to comment to the Mail on Sunday.
Allegations that Sutton himself had been involved in doping during were aired at the Freeman tribunal, with concerns raised over an empty EPO vial found in his car at a 1998 race, and further allegations relating to his time as a rider. Former rider Kvetoslav Palov reportedly told the tribunal that ANC-Halfords soigneur Angus Fraser had spent £10,000 on drugs for Sutton at the 1987 Tour de France, and insisted that "anyone claiming he was a professional cyclist and never saw anyone taking drugs is lying".
Sutton has always denied involvement in doping.
The new details come two days after Freeman was found guilty of ordering banned substance testosterone to Team Sky and British Cycling headquarters in 2011 "knowing or believing" it was for a rider. Freeman risks being struck off the medical register, while he also faces new charges from UK Anti Doping over the testosterone delivery.
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