Former British Cycling doctor Richard Freeman found guilty of doping charges

A whole series of very serious questions now sit at the feet of one of Britain’s most successful Olympic sports, cycling.

The sensational verdict that Richard Freeman, the former British Cycling and Team Sky doctor ordered performance enhancing testosterone with the intention of doping a rider was handed down on Friday after a fit to practise hearing that lasted more than two years.

At no time during the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service fitness to practise tribunal was an individual rider named.

The order was placed in 2011, less than a year from Britain’s golden Olympic summer in 2012 and Freeman’s catalogue of lies began the moment the testosterone was delivered to the national cycling centre in Manchester.

At the time, he denied to shocked colleagues that he had ordered it, saying it must have been delivered by mistake and promised to return the packages immediately. That’s when the cover-up began.

His deceit included persuading the suppliers to write an email confirming the testosterone had been returned to them and had been delivered in error in the first place. In fact, Freeman now admits he took the 30 sachets home to destroy them himself.

Freeman had admitted 18 of the 22 charges facing him in his tribunal but not the central and most serious one that he ordered the testosterone “knowing or believing” it would be used to dope a cyclist.

Cycling team doctor Richard Freeman Credit: Tim Goode/PA

He always maintained he got it for the then head coach Shane Sutton to treat his erectile dysfunction. It is an explanation that Sutton has always denied.

Freeman was a senior doctor at British Cycling and Team Sky (now Ineos Grenadiers) for the majority of the glory years; the years when Olympic golds, World Championship titles and Tour de France wins kept coming at such a rate that cycling’s headquarters in Manchester was referred to as “The Medal Factory.”

Team GB’s cyclists topped the table at both the London and Rio Games winning 24 medals in total, 14 of them gold. In their stable they boasted some of Britain’s best-known Olympians; Sir Chris Hoy, Sir Bradley Wiggins and Jason and Laura Kenny among them.

Team Sky (as it was known then) became the most dominant team in road cycling, a reputation that began when Wiggins won the Tour de France in 2012 and continued for several years thanks to the dominance of Chris Froome.

Overseeing everything was Sir David Brailsford who built this success using his theory of ‘marginal gains’ and always maintained he would do it in a fair way.

No cheating and no doping.

This verdict throws the spotlight back on Brailsford and Freeman’s two former employers British Cycling and Team Sky.

British Cycling said today it had reformed its medical operation but nevertheless found it “extremely disturbing” that the testosterone was intended for an athlete.

Team Sky’s successor, where Brailsford is now, said: ”the Team does not believe that any athlete used or sought to use tetostogel or any other performance enhancing substance.”

Shane Sutton, the former technical director who appeared as a witness to deny Freeman’s claims the drug was for him said: “I'd like to stress that neither I nor Sir Dave Brailsford knew about the testosterone order. But I think it's important to find out who the doctor ordered it for.”

It is a view shared by many, among them Julian Knight MP, the chair of the influential DCMS Commons Select Committee who described the day as: ”A terrible day for the reputation of British cycling.’’

One of his committee members and a former shadow sports minister went further saying Sir David Brailsford should be suspended; Clive Efford told the Telegraph: “Until this is cleared up, all those involved shouldn’t be anywhere near the sport.”

Throughout the tribunal a picture was painted of Freeman’s chaotic record keeping, his memory gaps, lost or damaged laptops, a man who regularly treated team members as if he was their GP and a way of working that was not conducive to a world class performance programme or an organisation that focussed on every minute detail. 

But those failings are nothing compared to what he has been found guilty of today.

The reputations of many household names, however unfairly, are tainted by association. 

Freeman’s tribunal will continue next week and he will hear what sanctions he faces in early May.

He also has two charges levelled at him by UK anti-doping; namely the “possession of a prohibited substance” and “tampering or attempted tampering with any part of doping control”.

That could lead to a four year ban from sport.