My friend Rob Hayles is not a drug cheat, insists Wiggins

Last updated at 16:14 27 March 2008

Olympic champion Bradley Wiggins today threw his support behind banned British team-mate Rob Hayles, who was withdrawn from the track cycling World Championships in Manchester after failing a blood test.

Hayles, an Olympic silver medallist and a triple world champion himself, was found to have a haematocrit reading above the permitted levels. Dutch cyclist, Pim Ligthart, was prevented from competing for the same reason.

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Bradley Wiggins

Lapping it up: Bradley Wiggins wins the men's individual pursuit gold medal in Manchester

The test measures the capacity of the blood to carry oxygen and was introduced by the International Cycling Union in 1997 in a bid to limit the use of the banned drug EPO.

Wiggins, who is hot favourite to win Olympic gold this summer after riding well within his comfort zone to beat Holland's Jenning Huizenga in the men's pursuit final, has no doubts about Hayles.

They were together in the team which claimed the Madison bronze at the Athens Olympics and Wiggins said: "People will jump to the worst case scenario but Rob is one of the longest serving guys on this programme and one of the cleanest guys around."

There was also a silver for Britain in the men's team sprint. The trio of Chris Hoy, Jamie Staff and Ross Edgar lost out to France in the final but it took a new world record to beat them.

Wiggins is targeting three events this week. He is competing in the four-man 4,000metres team pursuit today and the Madison race on Saturday.

"To win in Manchester was a fantastic feeling. I'm just pleased I got the job done," he said.

"I got a bit excited in the qualifying ride and had to throttle back a bit but in the final it was just a case of going on a schedule I knew the Dutch guy wouldn't be able to match. It would be great to win three world titles."

Today's other main attractions include Victoria Pendleton and Shanaze Reade defending their women's team sprint title and 2004 Olympic rowing silver medallist Rebecca Romero hoping to get among the medals again in the women's individual pursuit.

Meanwhile, 35-year-old Hayles issued a statement, saying he was "disappointed and frustrated" at having to miss the championships.

"I would have to be an idiot to do something like that," he said. "It's most definitely something that hasn't happened, hand on heart."

British Cycling's performance director, Dave Brailsford, is also confident further tests will exonerate Hayles.

He said: "I have known Rob a long time and there has never been any doubt in my mind that he has been anything but a fantastic athlete for Britain. He does not take drugs."

Brailsford, who has established Britain as the world's dominant force in track cycling added: "You work so hard and put so much effort into being open and transparent but unfortunately these things can happen. It's a massive distraction."

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