Team Sky says that its Colombian climber, Sergio Henao, has been taken off its race programme as a result of concerns over values registered in recent tests he has undergone. It adds that he is returning to Colombia to undergo “an altitude research programme” following internal analysis of his physiological profile.
The move has been prompted by concerns over values registered in tests carried out by team staff on the 26-year-old, second in last year’s Flèche Wallonne and ninth overall in the 2012 Giro d’Italia.
The rider, who was born and grew up at altitude, returned home to Colombia in October for the close season and Sky says that while there, he underwent WADA-accredited tests.
In a statement published on Sky’s website, team principal Sir Dave Brailsford said: "We have strong monitoring and compliance processes in this team, with the full co-operation of riders and coaches.
“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.
“We contacted the relevant authorities – the UCI and CADF – pointed to these readings and asked whether they could give us any insights. 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.”
Founded on a platform of zero tolerance of doping, Team Sky’s performance in the last two editions of the Tour de France, won by Sir Bradley Wiggins in 2012 and Chris Froome last year, has seen unfavourable comparisons drawn to US Postal’s dominance of the race with Lance Armstrong a decade or so ago.
That wasn’t helped by its employment on a short term contract of former Rabobank doctor Geert Leinders, who ceased working with the team in October 2012, alleged to have helped riders cheat while at the Dutch outfit.
The team has also come under scrutiny after it was confirmed in December that British rider Jonathan Tiernan-Locke faces disciplinary proceedings in respect of an alleged anti-doping violation in connection with irregularities in his biological passport.
Tiernan-Locke's management "vehemently" deny the accusations, while Sky insists that the period to which the suspicious values relate is before he joined it at the start of the 2013 season.
Regarding Henao, Brailsford said: “Sergio was raised in the mountains, goes back in winter and lives and trains at different levels. We’ve looked as far as we can at the effects of this, but our own understanding is limited by a lack of scientific research into ‘altitude natives’ such as Sergio.
“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.
“The independent experts are looking to use WADA-accredited laboratories and Team Sky will make the data and findings available to WADA, the UCI and CADF.
“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.”
Henao joined Team Sky at the beginning of the 2012 season, with his cousin Sebastian Henao joining him at the British UCI WorldTour outfit at the beginning of the current season.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.