The Times says that UK Anti Doping (UKAD) has opened an investigation into alleged doping at the former Linda McCartney Racing Team, which raced from 1998 until it collapsed in early 2001, managed by Sean Yates and whose riders included Max Sciandri and, very briefly, Bradley Wiggins. The newspaper says that the investigation was launched as a result of information provided by team founder Julian Clark, who has recently finished a jail term for fraud unrelated to the team.
In an article published today (£), The Times says that it has been helping UKAD in its investigation, with the newspaper claiming to have passed on eyewitness testimony from three individuals connected to the team who say that “doping was rife” within it. UKAD was unable to confirm or deny to road.cc that an investigation had been started into the team, in line with its standard operating policy.
However, in a statement published on its website this morning, it said that “due to the current focus worldwide on doping in cycling, UK Anti-Doping has received an increased amount of information from a range of partners and the public about a range of sports and issues.”
The Times says that according to the persons who provided information to it, “though their was not a doping programme led by the team management, the riders were responsible for their own doping programmes and senior personnel turned a blind eye.”
The team started racing in 1998 – the year of the Festina scandal – having been founded by former motocross rider turned entrepreneur Clark, who already had something of a chequered history in business.
It would collapse three years later with riders going unpaid as promised investment failed to materialise.
The team was sponsored by the vegetarian food business founded by Linda McCartney, who died in April 1998. Her husband, Sir Paul McCartney, wrote a song inspired by the team called Clean Machine.
In August 2011, Clark was jailed for fraud for the second time, receiving a three and a half year sentence from which he has now apparently been released.
The Times adds that one rider, the American Matt DeCanio, believed that those who did not dope were denied the opportunity to take part in major races.
He told The Times that doping within the team, which in its third year of racing in 2000 took part in the Giro d’Italia, clinching a stage win through the Australian rider, David McKenzie, “wasn’t team sponsored. You had to provide your own.”
However, DeCanio added: “The team definitely knew that some of the riders were dirty. If you wanted to use drugs, you wouldn’t lose your job. Doping wasn’t pushed – they weren’t giving drugs out. The team wanted to hire riders who knew how to dope themselves, did it on their own and who would come to races prepared.”
DeCanio believes that his own refusal to dope cost him the chance to ride the 2000 Giro.
“They knew I was clean. They didn’t select me and they definitely knew which riders were on drugs.”
According to The Times, both DeCanio and the other individuals who have supplied information to it say that while doping was not organised at team level, manager Sean Yates was aware that it was going on at the outfit.
The latter left his position as sports director at Team Sky citing health and family reasons, although eyebrows have been raised at the timing of his departure, which coincided with two other members of its management, Bobby Julich and Steven De Jongh, leaving after admitting to doping during their riding careers.
Yates, who became directeur sportive at Lance Armstrong’s Discovery Channel team in 2005 and later fulfilled similar roles at CSC and Astana, has insisted that he was never aware of doping at any team with which he has worked.
Sciandri, born in Derby but of Italian descent, switched to representing Great Britain ahead of the 1996 Olympics, the first time pro cyclists were allowed to compete, and took bronze in the road race behind Switzerland’s Pascal Richard, a future Linda McCartney team mate.
He would later run the British Olympic Academy in Quarrata, Italy – where one of its graduates, Mark Cavendish, now a close friend of Sciandri’s, still has a home – and now works as sports director at BMC Racing.
Speaking to The Times, he said: “It’s now a matter of everybody making accusations of everybody. Every day you open the paper and someone is making an accusation about someone else.”
Referring to the information it had received regarding doping within cycling, UKAD’s statement this morning said: “This is extremely welcome and helpful, some are required to tell us what they know as soon as they know it, others are supporting the shared drive to achieve clean sport. Such information is essential to the way we work.
“Information is processed in ways defined by the National Intelligence Model to measure its validity and relevance, and to determine if and how it links together.
“All valid information that could lead to a prosecution will be followed up, however building a non-analytical case (where no positive test exists) frequently takes time to ensure the evidence is robust and verified.
“All potential charges are independently reviewed before action is taken to ensure sufficient evidence exists to proceed.
“We do not promote our lines of enquiry, to protect those who could be unfairly implicated and to encourage information flow, unless it’s deemed clearly beneficial to our goals or there is a risk we need to urgently highlight.
“All cases and sanctions are published at the end of the prosecution process, after the appeal process is finalised too. Individuals being investigated or prosecuted may choose to speak out at any point.”
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.