Black mark for GreenEDGE over White
Stepping down - GreenEdge boss Matt White has admitted to doping while with US Postal. (Image: AAP)
Both Orica-GreenEDGE and Team Sky have been forced into a corner following the fallout of Lance Armstrong doping scandal – but could an enforced zero-tolerance policy further muddy the waters?
To think it was all going so well.
Stage wins in two of three Grand Tours; a debut home win for Simon Gerrans followed by his monumental victory in Milan-San Remo; a cluster of scalps from Luke Durbridge; a landmark king of the mountains jersey from Simon Clarke.
GreenEDGE’s wonderful opening year in the ProTour was suddenly soured this week when directeur sportif Matt White was forced to fall on his sword.
For all the good work White has done at GreenEDGE – and at Cycling Australia, where he ran the men’s road racing programme – this was clearly an accident waiting to happen.
Before White joined GreenEDGE last year, there were doubts.
The 38-year-old was dismissed by Garmin-Cervelo after it emerged that White had referred Trent Lowe to the shamed former US Postal team physician Dr Luis Garcia del Moral in April 2009 – a move which contravened the anti-doping rules of Jonathan Vaughter’s team.
White was also implicated by former US Postal team-mate Floyd Landis in 2010 – but it was not until the recent damning USADA Armstrong report was made public last week that White admitted to taking part in the doping culture at the American team.
There clearly should have been more scrutiny involved by both GreenEDGE and Cycling Australia before appointing White – and CA president Klaus Mueller has at least come out and admitted this gross oversight.
It’s quite laughable that when CA appointed White to his co-ordinator role, they never asked him directly whether he had doped during his racing career. Ditto GreenEDGE, who perhaps preferred not to know.
Team Sky find themselves in the similar boat – albeit one that could sink far deeper.
Question marks have been raised over directeur sportif Sean Yates, who rode alongside Armstrong at the Motorola team in the mid-90s and also worked as DS at Discovery Channel for four years.
Yates, who allegedly tested positive for an unnamed substance after winning a minor race in 1989, recently told the BBC that he never noticed anything “dodgy” going on as a rider at Motorola or as DS at the Discovery Channel team in 2005, when Armstrong won his seventh Tour.
While Yates was not named in USADA’s report, a picture of him with his arms around the shoulders of the infamous “motoman” – the Frenchman who delivered a steady stash of EPO to Armstrong and his cronies by motorcycle – was used as Exhibit A in Frankie Andreu’s affidavit.
Add to the mix Sky’s questionable recruitment earlier in the summer of Geert Leinders as a freelance consultant – a Dutch doctor formerly employed by the tainted Rabobank team and whose name appears in the Armstrong dossier.
And then there’s another former US Postie, Michael Barry, who admitted to doping alongside Armstrong but avoided being sacked by Sky by conveniently retiring after the Tour of Beijing.
Eager to avoid any further embarrassment, Sky manager David Brailsford is giving his riders and staff an ultimatum in a bit to reinforce the team’s position as cycling’s dominant clean team: each and every member of the team will be individually interviewed over the coming weeks and asked to sign a document saying they have never doped.
Oh, to be a fly on the wall.
(Quite where this leaves Yates is anyone’s guess. Like White, he may be forced out – despite the obvious good work he’s doing on the team.)
Already critics are saying this is yet another PR exercise dressed up as an anti-doping measure. The potential ramifications are huge – for both Sky and Australian cycling.
For instance, it was only a couple of years ago that French newspaper L’Equipe compiled a doping suspicion list that placed Australians Michael Rogers and Matthew Lloyd (Lampre) in a category that contained riders who showed “overwhelming evidence of some kind of doping”.
This is the same Rogers who, while at T-Mobile – according to Levi Leipheimer’s sword affidavit – attended multiple altitude training camps in 2005 alongside fellow clients of Dr Michele Ferrari. Rogers himself once described the controversial doctor as “the best coach in the world”.
Now I’m not suggesting Rogers did anything untoward – there’s no concrete evidence and the rider has consistently denied all wrongdoing – but if he did succumb to the temptations that (let’s be honest) a high percentage of riders did back in that era, then what exactly has he got to gain by coming clean now, while still an active rider?
Sky have already said that any rider who admits to past dalliances will face the sack; a six-month ban would follow and then there would be the tricky task of finding a team willing to take him on (ironically, GreenEDGE have always been an admirer of Rogers – but given the current climate, this would throw a spanner in the works).
Of course I must stress this is all hypothetical. But it clearly highlights the pitfalls of a zero-tolerance approach.
As fellow Roar cycling columnist Tim Renowden wrote recently, such an approach “provides the strongest possible disincentive for others to come forward and provide information, unless they are retiring and completely removing themselves from involvement with the sport”.
It’s fine for the likes of George Hincapie and Barry to wash their hands now they have hung up their cycling shoes – but look at the example of Leipheimer.
The American has been sacked from a team he only joined last year. After a year of consistent injuries, mixed form and bad luck, Leipheimer will find few teams willing to take a punt on 39-year-old with so much baggage. Those six-months will in all likelihood morph into retirement.
At the moment it seems to be very much the Anglo-Saxon teams that are bearing the brunt – but look elsewhere: next season convicted doper Alexandre Vinokourov takes up a management position at Astana, no questions asked (after all, he created the team), while Russian Viatscheslav Ekimov – one of Armstrong’s blood brothers at US Postal – takes over the helm at Katusha.
Zero tolerance will only work if it is applied across the board. With such a prospect so unlikely (not to mention impossible in some nations where doping is hardly frowned upon), then surely there’s a case for some kind of amnesty for cyclists – both current and retired – should they own up to past transgressions.
Such was the widespread culture of doping in the pro peloton in recent years, you’d be hard pressed finding anyone in cycling above the age of 35 who would put pen to paper in the way Sky are so obsequiously demanding without feeling a hot flush zip through their body.
You can argue that a cheat like White is the last person you want overseeing Australia’s best young riders. But on the flipside, you could say he’s the perfect person to preach the perils that thwarted an entire generation.
Felix Lowe is an English photographer, writer and Arsenal fan with a penchant for pro-cycling. Eurosport writer and blogger, Felix has covered the major cycling races in the pro calendar for the past decade and is now taking up the sport himself, at the ripe age of 31.
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