The fallout from the USADA report continues
It’s another week and another round of doping drama in cycling. I feel like this is just a continuing soap opera and each week we are left with a cliff hanger. Who will admit to doping next? Which team will lose a sponsor? Why has Lance Armstrong’s twitter account fallen silent – did Landis hack it?
If I had to give an award for the biggest knee jerk reaction it would have to go to Team Sky. Sure, Rabobank was up for consideration in the “knee jerk reaction category” after they decided to walk away from their role as title sponsor, but Sky edged them out with the amount of internal housecleaning they have done this past week.
Some of it, quite frankly, was needed. The team doctor was Geert Leinders, a man who had ties to the Rabobank squad during the Michael Rasmussen days and was with the Dutch team until 2009. Just to refresh your memory this was a time when, according to its former team director Theo de Rooy, “If it happened (doping), it was a deliberate decision by the medical staff.” That’s a bit suspicious sounding.
Back in July team principal Dave Brailsford said there was no concern hiring the Belgian doctor with a spotty past. In fact Brailsford told The Times, “I categorically, 100 per cent say there is no risk of anything untoward since he’s been with us. But there is reputational risk.”
Turns out that there was some “reputational risk” said Brailsford who also stated the team would never hire a former cycling doctor. He issued a press release stating that Dr. Leinders’ contract for 2013 would not be renewed.
At the Team Sky headquarters alarm bells must have gone off as Brailsford took it a step further and said that the team was going to interview everyone on the team and if anyone had any connections to doping, even if it was in the past, they would be terminated.
If you’ve read the riders’ affidavits in the USADA report you might have noticed several names have been redacted giving some paragraphs a checkerboard appearance. In the place of names there’s “rider 4” or “other 2.” It didn’t take too long before the collective mind of the cycling forums dissected and evaluated the darkened names and started to put names with the redacted. It became a game of cycling bingo. “Rider 9 is ... Matt White! Do we have a bingo?!”
There on the Velorooms forum in the “doping” section is listed “other 8.” The speculation was “other 8” is Dr. Leinders who is also suspected of selling EPO to Levi Leipheimer (who has since been fired from his team Omega Pharma-QuickStep). So no big surprise that the doctor’s contract wasn’t renewed for the 2013 season. But this was the first domino that started the Team Sky housecleaning.
Looking at the redacted names list people speculated that “rider 4” was Bobby Julich. I’ve only interviewed Julich once and had passing conversations with him when he was working for Team CSC, so I really can’t say I knew too much about him other than his racing resume. And looking at it I wouldn’t have picked his name as someone who had doped. Yes, he was third in the 1998 Tour de France, but that was after half the peloton dropped out in protest of the police raids or were kicked out. Regardless, there he was on the redacted names list as possibly being “rider 4.”
Lo and behold last week Team Sky issued another press release and stated Julich was shown the door after admitting to doping from the years 1996 to 1998. He stopped because his wife found out and wasn’t happy about it. Frankie Andreu also quit doping after his wife Betsy Andreu found out. I think the lesson here is that cyclists need a strong-minded partner in their life. If left unsupervised they can get into trouble.
Now the Team Sky purge became a game of “who would be the next person fired?” Even money was on director Sean Yates. He’d had his photo taken a couple of times with the infamous “motoman” and had been Armstrong’s teammate, as well as director. Unfortunately Yates didn’t get the memo that the “old guard” of the peloton were confessing their past sins. He was still entrenched in the omertà stating that all he did was show up at the races, drive the team car and bark some orders through the race radio. He claims to have not seen any doping.
Coincidentally Yates decided to retire from directing cycling due to “family reasons” this past weekend and it had nothing to do with accusations of doping. If you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you. Then on Monday ex-pro and part of the management team of Sky Steven de Jongh officially got the axe.
The Team Sky press release stated, “Steven disclosed that he had taken a banned substance earlier in his career as a professional rider.” Boom – he was gone. It’s bad enough to be publicly fired, but the kick to de Jongh’s nuts is in the second to last paragraph from Brailsford.
“Steven deserves our respect for the courage he’s shown in being honest about the past and it’s right that we do our best to support him.”
What? How is that support by kicking him out?
While I applaud Sky for trying to keep their team clean this Spanish Inquisition is not an effective method. It leaves someone with two choices: confess and be fired or lie about their past and continue the omertà. It’s a lose/lose proposition and an idea coming from a place of panic. A good leader doesn’t react to a situation, but is proactive. By that I mean Brailsford should have done his homework thoroughly.
A quick look at these guys’ resumes on Wikipedia could have alerted him to some possible red flags. “Hmmm…Yates rode for Armstrong and was his director too. Maybe ask about that?”
And quickly tossing these guys out of the organization for something that happened 15 years ago isn’t going to help. Instead he should have gotten those who admitted to doping to publicly acknowledge it and if they have shown to have changed their ways, continue with the team. Because let’s face it – any European-based rider over the age of 35 knew about doping up close or was part of it first-hand.
Now you might be asking yourself, so why should we be so heavy handed with Lance Armstrong? His Tour de France titles were stripped away and there’s discussion of taking his Olympic medal too. Armstrong has been beat on so badly that he has even stopped tweeting! You know it’s serious when that happens!
The difference is that Armstrong hasn’t admitted his guilt and chances are, never will. Also, he used threats, intimidation, and went out of his way to ruin people’s lives. The now disgraced rider didn’t just take EPO to beat or stay level with the competition, he wielded his power like a baton, smacking people down, not once, but numerous times so they couldn’t get up. Those who stood against him were slandered and accused of being crazy.
These others who used performance enhancing drugs during that era did so because they thought they had no choice. We all know they did in fact have a choice – but they chose poorly – thinking this was their solution to the ever increasing speeds of the pro peloton.
Brailsford needs to pull out of this public relations nosedive and allow those who admit to doping and have shown that it is truly in their past, to continue to work with the Sky team. If he doesn’t he runs the danger of driving the strides we’ve made in anti-doping further underground. It’s one thing to want a clean sport, but there’s no winner when an entire generation of cyclists get tossed on the scrap heap. Now is the time for reconciliation and to do what is correct for cycling now.