Richard Freeman, the former Team Sky and British Cycling doctor, has been accused of agitating for the removal of another doctor on the team in 2010 because he saw him “as a bar” to his plans to introduce controversial intravenous recovery protocols, a medical tribunal heard on Tuesday.
Freeman is accused of ordering the Testogel “knowing or believing” it was intended for an athlete. He denies the charge, saying he was bullied into ordering it for former head coach Shane Sutton, a claim which Sutton vehemently denies.
The General Medical Council (GMC), which has brought the case, is trying to build a picture of Freeman as a doctor who was prepared to compromise his ethics and Tuesday’s hearing centred on the team’s decision to dispense with the services of Dr David Hulse – now of Mitchelton-Scott – in 2010.
Freeman claimed that his major problem with Hulse was that he had failed in his duty of care towards Txema Gonzalez, a team soigneur who tragically died of sepsis during the 2010 Vuelta a Espana. He added that Professor Steve Peters, then the head of medicine at Team Sky, had “fudged” a critical incident review, and that the incident “warranted more investigation.”
However, Simon Jackson QC, acting for the GMC, challenged Freeman’s claim, suggesting he actually wanted Hulse off the team because of his refusal to sign up to his new IV recovery protocols.
Jackson read out an email Freeman sent to Professor Steve Peters, then the head of medicine at Team Sky, in September 2010, in which he wrote: “I like the idea of four to five doctors experienced in pro cycling,” he said. “Specifically in areas such as management of infection, vomiting and recovery. I know [Hulse] will not be able to adapt his views to reach a consensus decision fit for Sky’s purpose.”
Freeman said in the email he would be happy for his views to be forwarded to team principal, Sir Dave Brailsford.
“Is the position you were trying to make clear that if [Hulse] stayed in the team, you weren’t sure you were really going to stay?” Jackson asked. “Yes,” replied Freeman.
“The reality, I suggest to you, is that you wanted to stay, because you had plans to develop the team in a particular way, but you saw [Hulse] as a bar to that progress?” Jackson continued.
“No,” replied Freeman.
Jackson also read out an email in which Freeman made references to two other doctors he felt were not suited to working with Team Sky. Although the names were anonymised, Freeman confirmed they were Roger Palfreeman and Simon Roberts.
Freeman reckoned that Palfreeman, who had previously worked with the British Olympic teams in 2004 and 2008, would “not cope with the uncertainty of doping within professional cycling and will worry himself, and the team, to death.”
Roberts he described as “a cycling nut first. And a friend of [Hulse]. He is not what Team Sky would need to move forward and put Sky in a place to compete to win.”
Asked about the email, Freeman stood by his assessment. “Cycling nuts with stethoscopes was not the way forward. We wanted doctors who knew how to deal with elite sportsmen,” he said adding that Palfreeman was “a worrier”.
According to Freeman the use of IV recovery was a “hot topic” being discussed by team management at that time.
Freeman said Team Sky’s original intention had been to “do things differently” with riders being given Amino Acids, Pine Bark Extract, Arginine and Omega 3 orally.
In April 2010 Hulse submitted a “policy discussion” on “injected nutritional products”, with Freeman saying that some riders were pushing for IV use because they had employed such methods at previous teams. Other members of the team refused to accept it. Team Sky nutritionist Dr Nigel Mitchell, for instance, was “vehemently against” IV use and felt the same recovery could be managed “by oral supplementation”. Hulse was also against it.
By the following season, the team had signed a number of new doctors including Geert Leinders, a Belgian who has since received a lifetime ban for multiple doping violations carried out when he worked for the Rabobank team between 1996 and 2009. The UCI’s no-needles ban came in the following May, outlawing injectable IV recovery.
Meanwhile, at the Vuelta a Espana, EF Pro Cycling’s Michael Woods claimed victory from the breakaway on stage seven as Richard Carapaz [Ineos Grenadiers] retained the overall lead.
Britain’s Hugh Carthy [EF Pro Cycling] remains second at 18 seconds, with Ireland’s Daniel Martin [Israel Start-Up Nation] a further two seconds further back.