Team Sky’s former head coach Shane Sutton voiced personal concerns in 2012 that Chris Froome might be doping with the help of another Team Sky coach, Bobby Julich, on the same day he told his bosses he was facing his own doping allegations, the Mail on Sunday can reveal.
Sutton’s bombshell allegations, made to Team Sky supremo Dave Brailsford and team psychiatrist Steve Peters, were wholly unsubstantiated, and remain so, but were nonetheless remarkable as Froome had recently been pivotal in helping Bradley Wiggins become the first Briton to win the Tour de France.
Froome, 35, went on to win the Tour de France four times with Team Sky, in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017, and since recovering from a horrific crash in 2019, is now the figurehead of a new Israeli team, Start-Up Nation.
Team Sky’s head coach Shane Sutton (left) raised concerns that Chris Froome (right) might be doping in 2012 – on the same day he told bosses he was facing his own allegations
Froome has always strenuously denied using any illegal drugs and told The Mail on Sunday on Saturday he wasn’t aware of any action taken as a result of Sutton’s claims. He said all riders were closely monitored as a matter of course and speculated Sutton made up the accusation because he was the coach of Bradley Wiggins, a team rival at that time.
‘I am not aware of any specific follow-ups, but all the riders on Team Sky were subject to internal reviews of their data on an ongoing basis,’ Froome says.
‘I had very little contact with Shane Sutton as he was Brad’s coach. I know Shane wasn’t especially fond of me, particularly at that time. There was an element of internal rivalry as I was challenging for leadership of the team over the rider he coached.’ Sutton, a 63-year-old no-nonsense Australian who is widely regarded as a key architect of Team GB’s Olympic cycling success from the mid-Noughties to 2016, was effectively also Brailsford’s right-hand man at Team Sky from 2010 to late 2012. He had little day-to-day involvement thereafter but stayed on Team Sky’s payroll until 2017.
The context to Sutton’s concerns about Froome and Julich was that Sutton himself was under the spotlight and being interviewed about whether he had any experience or knowledge of doping in his own career.
Froome had been pivotal in helping Bradley Wiggins (right) become the first Briton to win the Tour de France at the time of the allegations
Sutton was a professional rider from 1982 to 1993, including taking part in the 1987 Tour de France in the British-based ANC-Halfords team. He then turned to coaching, initially with Welsh cycling before being hired by Brailsford to work at British Cycling from 2002.
In summer 2012, in the wake of Lance Armstrong’s conviction for career-long doping offences, Brailsford decided to reinforce his ‘zero tolerance’ policy on drugs at Team Sky.
He ordered that every staff member, from riders and coaches to support staff, undertake an interview process with Peters to quiz whether they had any previous associations with doping. Any staff member admitting such a link was offered compensation as they were released from Team Sky, and assistance in helping find work elsewhere. Staff who denied any doping links kept their jobs.
Julich was among those who admitted publicly to historic doping and left. Others admitted to historic doping privately and left. The Mail on Sunday knows of others who denied ever doping and stayed even though there was evidence they had doped.
This newspaper can reveal that Sutton firmly denied any link to doping in the first nine searching questions in his “screening” conducted with Brailsford and Peters on October 20, 2012.
But we can also also reveal that in the same interview Sutton was asked: ‘Do you have any suspicions that any type of active involvement in doping may have taken place within this team?’
He replied he was suspicious of fellow coach Julich’s work with Froome. Julich, an American, was a former team-mate of Lance Armstrong in Armstrong’s glory years of winning seven Tours de France in a row from 1999. Now, in October 2012, Sutton was telling his bosses he was suspicious of Julich’s work with Froome at Team Sky.
He went on to win the Tour de France four times with Team Sky, in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017
In response to the question about suspicions of ‘active involvement in doping’ in the team at that time, Sutton replied: ‘Bobby’s involvement with Chris Froome. I have heard of allegations of Chris going to Italy on a motorbike. I have also looked at training traces and compared them to Bradley. I am looking at heart traces and deciphering the information.
‘It’s not just the power rates we are looking at. I was concerned about the data but I have no evidence other than this.’
The final question that Sutton was asked by Brailsford and Peters back in October 2012 was: ‘Do you wish to ask any questions or have you anything you would like to add to your statement?’
To which Sutton replied: ‘Yes — there is an absurd allegation from 24 years ago from a witness who had dubious credibility. Some information suggested by the press was ludicrous.
‘I feel I need support now from the team. We have run a clean programme for over 10 years in British Cycling. I have never used doping, we have done this clear with hard work.’
Allegations that Sutton had been a doper were aired in the medical tribunal of Dr Richard Freeman between late 2019 and earlier this year.
It was alleged Sutton had stored banned testosterone in his home fridge when a rider had tried to bypass a dope test with a cola can of urine, and had been supplied drugs by an Edinburgh-based man called Angus Fraser, who had previous proven involvement with doping. Sutton had previously told a parliamentary inquiry into doping he had never seen any doping in his sport or had any knowledge of it.
Allegations that Sutton had been a doper were aired in the medical tribunal of Dr Richard Freeman between late 2019 and earlier this year
Another witness at the Freeman tribunal, a Sutton team-mate from 1987 called Omar Palov, said this wasn’t true as the pair had ridden in races where needles were commonplace in toilets near the start line.
A spokesman for Steve Peters said he would not be answering questions we sent about Sutton’s allegations about Froome, or about any probes done as a result, either into Froome or Sutton.
Brailsford did not answer any of the same questions or explain why Sutton remained on the payroll until 2017 despite leaving day-to-day duties with Team Sky in early 2013. Bobby Julich did not respond to questions.
The Mail on Sunday asked Sutton why he had made the allegation about Froome, and in a phone conversation he said: ‘I’ve already answered that question.’ Asked where or when he had answered the question, and where we could see his answer, he replied: ‘I don’t take dates.’
Asked if he could confirm he made the allegations about Froome and Julich, he said: ‘I’m not making any comment on it.’