Former Team Sky rider Josh Edmondson claims he secretly injected vitamins with needles while with squad

Matt Slater
Revelations | Josh Edmondson spoke about his time with Team Sky to BBC: Getty Images

Former Team Sky rider Josh Edmondson has claimed he broke cycling's rules on injections and became addicted to the painkiller Tramadol while riding for the British outfit and the team did not reveal it.

Edmondson joined Team Sky in 2013 after a string of impressive performances as an amateur but his two-year deal was not extended and he left at the end of the 2014 season, with both parties saying he could return if his form and fitness recovered.

But the 24-year-old Yorkshireman has now claimed to the BBC that he confessed to the team's senior management that he had been injecting himself with vitamins several times a week for a month during his difficult 2014 campaign after a team-mate reported him.

This contravenes the International Cycling Union's (UCI) "no needles" policy as injections are only permitted if there is clear medical need, there is no alternative, they are administered by a medical professional, the UCI is informed and records are kept.

Edmondson has told the BBC none of this applies in his case but the team did not report him to the authorities. Sky - who have always maintained a no-needle stance - say there was no cover up after Edmondson was reported to them by a team-mate.

Dr Steve Peters, head of medicine for the team at the time, told the BBC Edmondson had told him he did not use the needles and as such there was no reporting of it.

(Getty Images)

"He had not done any injection, he said he did not know how to use it. All he said was, 'I did not know what to do so I left it'," Peters said.

The doctor added that he feared Edmondson could have been "pushed over the edge" with concerns for his mental health.

Edmondson also claims he became hooked on the controversial painkiller Tramadol during his Team Sky stint - an addiction that led him to experience severe depression.

The drug is not banned but has been on the World Anti-Doping Agency's watch list since 2012 and Team Sky themselves have joined wide calls from within cycling for its prohibition, with no suggestion they knew of the rider's use.

In his interview with the BBC, Edmondson explained he was struggling and "under pressure" during the 2014 season and was aware his contract was coming up for renewal.

He decided to drive to Italy from his base in Nice to buy a cocktail of legal substances - L-carnitine, folic acid, B vitamins and other supplements - and syringes to administer them.

"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 and people can die from that," Edmondson 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."

When asked by the BBC if he was tempted to take doping products, Edmondson admitted he did consider it but "this was my way of closing the gap a little without doping".

He said: "It's not the same - if you were doping, you are getting massive gains. This is just freshening what you do naturally."

Edmondson's secret, however, was revealed when his teammate, who Press Association Sport understands to be American rider Ian Boswell, found out and told Team Sky's management.

He was then told by Peters that he had been found out and they had photographic evidence of the substances and intravenous equipment.

Peters - a leading psychiatrist who has also worked with Britain's Olympic cycling team, England's football and rugby union team, Liverpool Football Club and snooker star Ronnie O'Sullivan - told the BBC he and the team's senior management questioned Edmondson who "fell apart at the seams quite dramatically".

Peters said Edmondson claimed he had not actually used the syringes and his primary concern then became the rider's mental well-being.

Peters said: "I was now in a position where I can say the welfare of the athlete was number one.

"Obviously, I'm working with the team and anti-doping is a secondary issue but a really important one, and we have to address it, so Josh explained that he had never used needles before."

Peters said the team then tested the vials, only one of which was open, and found they were all vitamins.

He added that he had his doubts about Edmondson's denial of actually injecting himself but took the view that he was not "culpable" because he was ill and could not "give informed consent" to his actions.

As a result, Peters said he kept close watch of Edmondson's behaviour until the end of his contract.

Team Sky have told the BBC they took legal advice at the time of the incident and were told that while Edmondson had breached team rules by possessing syringes they did not need to inform the UCI or UK Anti-Doping.

But asked whether Team Sky should have handled the case differently, Peters said: "We could have reported it. We could have made a different decision.

"We'll never know in hindsight. I suppose if I'm looking at safety issues I did think there was a really big risk this lad would be pushed over the edge. I stand by my decision.

"I think I'd definitely have told them if I thought this young man was trying to cheat, but I don't think he was doing that.

"There are shades of grey. Let's be honest, none of us were comfortable but we had a lot of discussion around this and one thing we could say was he violated our rules."

Edmondson, however, disputes a key part of Peters' account. He told the BBC he did confess to using the syringes, which would be a clear breach of UCI rules.

The governing body's "no needles" policy was introduced in May 2011 after pressure from some teams for the sport to take a more aggressive stance against doping, and then further tightened in 2013.

The relevant sections of the UCI's rulebook are in the third chapter on the "protection and promotion of the rider's health" and they state injections are banned unless they are medically justified following a proper examination by a doctor, there is no alternative, they are in line with the manufacturer's recommendations and they are administered by a professional. The injection must also be reported to the UCI within 24 hours.

Edmondson told the BBC he did inform Team Sky that he had self-injected and claimed they decided to cover it up.

"They'd have had to say publicly a kid was injecting. Injecting anything's bad. It's not like they were banned substances but injecting is against the rules - to self-administer anything, I believe," he said.

Peters strongly denied this and said: "It's not a cover-up."

On his use of Tramadol, Edmondson also said this was something he did independently from the team.

He used it so he could push himself harder on the bike but it had a dramatic effect on his mental state and he was unable to leave his house for two months after leaving Team Sky.

The opioid has been a controversial drug in cycling for years as drowsy riders alleged to use it have been blamed for crashes. Many anti-doping experts, including UKAD, also believe that it has performance-enhancing effects, is contrary to the spirit of sport and can be addictive.

Even Team Sky have in the past called for it to be banned. That was in 2014 after former rider Michael Barry admitted to using it in his autobiography.

Another former Team Sky rider, Jonathan Tiernan-Locke, who joined the team at the same time as Edmondson, has also alleged that the drug was "freely" offered around by a doctor Team Sky shared with British Cycling at the 2012 road world championships. That claim is currently being investigated by UKAD.

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