Rider admits breaking ‘no needle’ rule and accuses Team Sky of cover-up

Sean Ingle
Team Sky’s Josh Edmondson was rumbled by a team-mate during the 2014 Tour of Poland but claims senior managers did not report his self-injecting to the authorities. Photograph: SWpix.com/REX/Shutterstock

The British cyclist Josh Edmondson has confessed to breaking the sport’s “no needle” rule by self-injecting vitamins while at Team Sky and claimed senior management covered it up when they discovered what he had been doing.

The 24-year-old, who was part of Team Sky in 2013 and 2014, said the pressure of trying to make the team for the Vuelta a España had led to him travelling to Italy to buy the amino acid L-carnitine as well as vitamin B12, folic acid, damiana compositum and the supplement TAD, which he then injected two or three times a week for about a month. Such vitamins are legal but riders have been banned from using needles under UCI rules since 2011.

When Edmondson was rumbled by a team-mate at the 2014 Tour of Poland, Team Sky’s senior managers decided not to report it to the authorities. According to Sky’s then head of medicine, Steve Peters, this was because Edmondson denied using the vitamins and they were concerned about his mental state.

Edmondson disputes this account, telling the BBC he did tell Team Sky he had self-injected at the time but there was a cover-up.

Peters denies there was any wrongdoing. “It’s not a cover-up,” he said. “Once you use that word you are saying there was an intent behind us to conceal and that was never the case.”

He added: “It wasn’t just something we decided that we won’t bother saying anything. It was a lot of agonising. We’ve got this in the minutes. I’m named as the person saying: ‘Please stop until I make sure this young man is OK’. We did it on good faith and decided on two counts. One we didn’t think he’d violated any rules and second and, most important, he was not in a good place.”

Despite those denials the incident is bound to raise further questions about Team Sky’s medical and governance procedures. The team, who have won four of the last five Tour de France races, have faced months of scrutiny over a package delivered to Sir Bradley Wiggins at the 2011 Critérium du Dauphiné, while earlier this week the chairman of the culture, media and sport select committee, Damian Collins, also cited Sky’s failure to keep medical records between 2011 and 2014 as further evidence they are “lacking” in good governance.

Edmondson told the BBC he had started injecting vitamins because he was hoping to ride in the prestigious Vuelta in 2014. “I was under a lot of pressure, not just from the team but from myself,” he said.

He conceded he had opened himself up to life-threatening risks. “It dawned on me while I was doing it how extreme it was, putting the needle in and making sure there are no bubbles because if there is air in it, it can give you a heart attack,” he said. “It is a very daunting thing to be doing, especially as I was sat in a room in a foreign country alone at night. It’s just a very surreal thing you do. It’s not something you take lightly. You’re doing it out of necessity really.”

He denied ever taking performance-enhancing drugs. “This was my way of closing the gap a little without doping,” he said. “Some people think there is a grey area and that’s why there is a no-needle policy but people across sport have been injecting vitamins for years and it is an alternative to doping. It’s not the same – if you were doping, you are getting massive gains. This is just freshening what you do naturally.”

Edmondson also admitted to suffering severe depression after privately using the powerful painkiller tramadol, which is not banned but has been on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s watchlist for the past five years, during the 2013 Tour of Britain.

When asked why he chose not to tell Team Sky about his difficulties, Edmondson said: “I was just really worried how it would look and it was a naive thing to do because I know now if I’d gone to someone, like Dr Freeman or Wiggo [Wiggins] or anyone really, someone I’d trusted, they would have helped me and there’d have been no problem.”

A Sky statement read: “In August 2014 an incident was reported through our internal ‘whistle blower’ policy regarding Josh Edmondson. The senior management team were made aware of this immediately and an investigation was initiated. At the conclusion of this we were satisfied that, while there had been a breach of the team’s own policies, there was no evidence of any anti-doping violation having taken place. After interviews with the rider, Dr Steve Peters, Team Sky’s Clinical Director, expressed immediate and serious concern regarding Josh’s wellbeing and judged that he should be offered professional support. Josh met with Dr Peters so that this support could be provided. Given our belief that there was no evidence of an anti-doping rule violation having taken place, the decision not to escalate or make public the incident was taken with the team’s duty of athlete care in mind.

Josh Edmondson was retained by Team Sky until his contract expired in December 2014. The decision not to renew his contract was taken as a result of this incident combined with wider failures to adhere to team policies which had already been discussed with Josh and his agent prior to this incident. A continuation of the support provided by both Dr Peters and Team Sky was offered to Josh even after his departure from the team. Both the Team Sky Board and Josh’s agent were kept fully up to date throughout this process. We are satisfied that this incident was handled correctly and we believe that it stands as an example of the robust procedures Team Sky has in place for any concerns to be raised, investigated and properly dealt with.”

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