Sutton doping allegations resurface at Freeman tribunal

Shane Sutton was former head coach at Team Sky and British Cycling
Shane Sutton was former head coach at Team Sky and British Cycling (Image credit: Getty Images)

Shane Sutton's name has returned to the centre of the Richard Freeman medical tribunal this week, with renewed allegations concerning doping during his riding career, plus a new allegation involving a vial of EPO said to be found in his car during his time as national coach of Wales.

The EPO allegation came from Tony Cooke, father of 2008 Olympic champion Nicole Cooke, who also voiced concerns that UK Anti-Doping failed to follow up on leads he had presented to them.

After Sutton himself was cross-examined last November as a witness for the General Medical Council, this week saw Freeman’s defence team call their two witnesses: Cooke and former rider Kvetoslav Palov. 

Cooke was quizzed on his account of a story he’d heard from the driver for Shane Sutton at the 1998 Five Valleys road race, where their car was left unattended and an empty vial was said to be found when they returned to it ahead of the race.

“Your informant said Mr Sutton was very angry about this being left in the car in which he was travelling? He thought it had been left there deliberately by a rider?” the GMC’s lawyer asked Cooke, according to the Guardian (opens in new tab). “That’s correct,” replied Cooke. “My own interpretation of it at the time was one of his [Sutton’s] innocence.”

“You also say you felt uncomfortable that the Welsh national coach would have recognised EPO in a vial?” Cooke was asked, to which he replied: “Mr Sutton was obviously able to recognise it, according to the account given to me.”

On Tuesday, Palov gave evidence via video link from Australia, and rubbished Sutton’s claims to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee (DCMS) Parliamentary inquiry that he never had experience or knowledge of doping during his time as a rider or coach. 

“Anyone claiming he was a professional cyclist and never saw anyone taking drugs is lying,” Palov said, according to the Guardian. “Anyone who has been in and around pro cycling for so long and isn’t aware of anyone taking drugs is absolutely lying.”

Freeman’s lawyer had already put doping allegations to Sutton when he appeared at the tribunal last November. Sutton denied he doped as a rider or coach and stormed out of the hearing.

Palov referred to the 1987 Tour of Britain, when he and Sutton were teammates on ANC-Halfords, alleging he and Sutton used a toilet in a McDonald’s in Edinburgh ahead of the first stage, where it is said there were “bloody syringes all over the place”. According to the Guardian, Palov was challenged by the GMC's lawyer, who pointed out McDonald’s didn’t have a Scotland store at the time and questioned whether he and Sutton were in the toilet together. 

Palov conceded that he may not have been with Sutton in the toilet of what he now insisted was “a fast-food restaurant”, but claimed the whole team would have used it. He also reportedly told the tribunal that ANC-Halfords soigneur Angus Fraser had spent £10,000 on drugs for Sutton at the 1987 Tour de France. 

“Shane said he had no knowledge of drugs in sport,” said Palov. “Given I was a witness to drugs in the Tour de France, syringes in the toilet, it’s a bit hard to say that.”

Cooke also voiced concerns over whether UKAD is fit for purpose, telling the tribunal how he collected doping allegations relating to Sutton and presented them to UKAD in 2013. 

“I was concerned that it wouldn’t be followed up,” he said, according to the Guardian. “I was surprised when the officers for UKAD told me they could not give me a copy of the evidence I had provided. I felt that was somehow not following natural justice.”

Cooke was reportedly read an email he later sent to UKAD in which he said he and Nicole believed Sutton to be “a character we could never trust” but didn’t have first-hand evidence of wrongdoing: “Certainly neither Nicole or myself have seen him use performance-enhancing drugs. Nor has he ever suggested to Nicole that she should. So on prima evidence he is certainly innocent and we’re being overly cautious.”

Cooke responded on Monday by saying: “I am giving Sutton the benefit of the doubt there. Innocent until proven guilty. Not prejudging the investigation.”

Freeman's tribunal continues this week but will run over the end date of November 26, with new dates needing to be found in 2021 to finish the process. On Tuesday, it emerged that if Freeman's QC, Mary O'Rourke, cannot find time in January, the current tribunal chair won't be free again until October.


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Patrick Fletcher
Deputy Editor

Deputy Editor. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2022 he has been Deputy Editor, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.