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Sky living on the edge | The Sunday Times

Sky living on the edge
Settling for second relieves doping accusations for Team Sky as Dave Brailsford admits recruitment processes could have been better
David Walsh Published: 17 March 2013

At over 2,000 metres, the Hotel Parador often sits above the clouds. It is located in the Teide National Park in Tenerife where the volcanic landscape takes your breath away, replacing it with the cleanest mountain air. Here professional cycling teams have been coming to train for almost two decades. “US Postal,” the man at reception says, “for five years they came. First as Postal, then as Discovery. I have my photograph taken with Lance Armstrong. Would you like to see?” “Did Dr Ferrari stay here too?” “Oh yes, he come always with his family.” There were suspicions about US Postal’s training camps in Tenerife. Why did they go there? How often did the testers show up? Armstrong and his key teammates came, trained, and returned to conquer. After they’d gone Teide’s pure air had the whiff of toxicity. On this crisp March morning, it is eight riders from Team Sky who head off on a five and a half hour ride. Seven times Sky have returned to this island, their faith in the high-altitude location expressed most keenly by their head of performance, the Australian Tim Kerrison. To anyone who has spent more than 10 minutes with the team, the importance of Kerrison’s contribution is clear. He has been Dave Brailsford’s key appointment and what has been achieved has much to do with Kerrison’s coaching and mentoring of the riders. We meet before dinner on Wednesday. Straightforward questions, I say, Oprah-like, needing a yes or no. “Have you ever been involved in doping, either in Australia or in the UK?” “No.” “Have you ever witnessed doping either in swimming or cycling?” “No.” “Have you ever seen anything in any programme you were part of that made you suspicious?” “No.” “If you came across anything suspicious in Team Sky, would you immediately tell Dave Brailsford?” “Y es.” “Would you leave Team Sky if you felt any form of doping was tolerated?” “Y es.”
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3/16/13

Sky living on the edge | The Sunday Times

After becoming the world’s number one team last year, Team Sky have started this season well. Last weekend Richie Porte, 28, became the first Australian to win the Paris to Nice stage race. On the morning of the final day time trial, the climb to Col d’Eze, Kerrison spoke to Porte and reminded him that his training rides showed he could produce an average power output of 400 watts on the climb. Setting off quickly, Porte produced an average 416 watts on the first half of the climb, 384 on the second half. He won the race decisively. The greater challenge came in the press conference, where half the questions concerned doping. “I was warned by our press officer to expect it but I still found it hard,” says Porte. “For God’s sake, I’d just won the biggest race of my life. “Some buffoon asked me about the state of Dutch cycling [because of the doping investigation into the Rabobank team]. How am I supposed to answer that? I’ve never done a thing wrong in my career and I end up having to defend myself and my team.” At the same time as Porte was winning ParisNice, his teammate Chris Froome was leading the Tirreno-Adriatico in Italy. But on the following day, Monday, Froome lost the leader’s jersey, falling to second, the position he would fill when the race ended on Tuesday. Brailsford was uncharacteristically cool about the team’s loss of the race By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. You can change this and find out more by following this link. leadership. “My immediate feeling was that there was a bigger picture to this. Because of our success, there has been rumour and innuendo about what we’re supposed to be doing. Chris lost the lead because he, Rigo Uran and Sergio Henao were stuffed from their efforts the day before. They showed vulnerability and suddenly Team Sky were no longer this winning machine.” Kerrison adds: “It’s sad, where we don’t get it right and we’re saying, ‘At least people can see we’re not perfect and there’s less of an argument for those who want to say we’re doping’. It’s dangerous for us to get into that mindset.” The difficulty for Team Sky was that Geert Leinders was back in the news last week and when Leinders is in the news, it’s bad news for the top cycling team. ON TUESDAY , October 19, 2010, Dr Geert Leinders flew from his Belgium home to

Froome celebrates his overall lead on the podium after completing the fifth stage of the TirrenoAdriatico (Mattia D'Alberto)
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Sky living on the edge | The Sunday Times

Manchester. He had come for an interview for a position on Team Sky’s medical team. Recommendation for Leinders had come from Steven de Jongh, a directeur sportif with Sky who had worked with Leinders while both were at the Dutch team Rabobank. That Leinders was in Manchester was indicative of a change in policy at Sky for when the team was founded a year before, it committed to employing doctors who had not previously worked in professional cycling. Brailsford wanted to create a team above suspicion and with a clear code of ethics but a disappointing first season was followed by a review. It was agreed that the team’s medical team had not been good enough and that contrary to the team’s charter, it needed doctors with experience in bike racing. So the policy was changed. Leinders was interviewed first by the team’s medical chief, Dr Steve Peters, then by team doctor Richard Freeman, before Peters again spoke to Leinders and two other applicants. “We needed a doctor with experience and the guy I met [Leinders] appeared very ethical, very professional and very compassionate,” says Peters. “He was also very knowledgeable about cycling, training, the different races. This wasn’t an appointment made lightly, Dave [Brailsford] and I had spoken a lot about how we could get tarnished by our involvement in pro road racing and how that would diminish everything we achieved with the track team. It was a massive fear.” Peters understood track racing and its world but on that October day in 2010, he knew little about professional road cycling. He didn’t know about Rabobank, the cycling team Leinders had been with from 1996 to 2009, and didn’t ask Leinders what he knew about the team’s Michael Rasmussen being withdrawn while leading the Tour de France on suspicion of doping. Neither did he ask what breach of “internal rules” had led to Thomas Dekker being kicked off the team. “I could have grilled him and grilled him but when someone assures you that he has not been involved in doping, that doesn’t seem appropriate,” says Peters. After Peters’ interview, Leinders was then interviewed by Freeman, who quizzed him on his medical skills and was impressed. Peters and Freeman recommended Leinders be hired and Brailsford offered a contract that meant he could be asked to work for up to 80 days in 2011. He worked 67 days for Team Sky that year and was liked by the riders for his ability and admired by the management for his professionalism. Peters insists he was scrupulously ethical in his time with Sky. “We agreed as a team that if a rider, suffering from asthma, got into trouble with pollen we would pull him out of the race rather than apply for a therapeutic use exemption on his behalf. Once, one of our riders was in this situation and the doctor got in touch with me and asked if we could get an exemption because the guy was in a bad way but was very keen to finish the race. “Using my discretion, I said ‘OK’. It was Geert who rang me afterwards to tell me I was wrong. ‘We’ve got to have consistency,’ he said.” Leinders had worked 44 of his 80-day contract in 2012 when Theo de Rooy, former directeur sportif at Rabobank, did an interview with journalist Mark Miserus for the Dutch newspaper de Volksrant. De Rooy said there had been a doping programme at Rabobank and that Leinders had been part of it. Brailsford asked for an explanation and Leinders claimed de Rooy’s words had been misinterpreted and insisted he, Leinders, had not been part of any doping programme. Sky’s boss judged that to keep him on while this allegation was being investigated would damage the reputation of the team. Leinders’ contract was paid up for 2012 and he was told the team would not use him again. Since then, Leinders has given interviews to Miserus and another Dutch journalist, Maarten Scholten, from
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Sky living on the edge | The Sunday Times

Handelsblad. To both he said his role with Sky was “minimised,” meaning he had worked purely as a doctor. With Rabobank, he was involved in the conditioning and preparation of the riders and, it is alleged by Rasmussen, Dekker and Danny Nelissen, in doping.

THE fall-out continues for Team Sky. While in Tenerife last week 34-year-old Australian rider Mat Hayman took a call from a cycling journalist and was asked about his memories of working with Leinders at Rabobank. Hayman said he would prefer not to comment, an answer that didn’t please Brailsford. “It was a legitimate question and Mat should have addressed it.” Sitting on a couch in the lobby of Hotel Parabor, I ask Hayman how he looked upon his 10 years at Rabobank. “From the beginning, I let it be known I wouldn’t dope and no one tried to push me. I didn’t want to go to bed worrying about testing positive. I suffered because of that, never got to ride in the Tour de France, and settled for the life of a domestique. I felt it was unfair and there were lots of performances I was suspicious about, from riders in other teams and riders in my own team.” And Geert Leinders? “I have no proof, I didn’t see any doping but I felt there were riders in the team who used doping and I was sure some members of staff were helping them.” “I spoke to a lot of guys from Rabobank, both on and off the record,” says Mark Miserus. “They pointed the finger at each other but no one mentioned Hayman in connection with doping.” Brailsford accepts Sky’s recruitment processes weren’t sufficiently rigorous. “We asked questions about Geert, no one raised an alarm and we didn’t see the need to grill people. As the person responsible for bringing him in, I thought maybe I should resign. I got it wrong and if the board had wanted me to step down, I would have.” After Leinders’ departure, Team Sky reverted to its policy of employing doctors who haven’t previously worked in cycling and the new head doctor is Alan Farrell, recruited from a practice in Dublin. They come to this training camp in Tenerife without a doctor, as Kerrison likes to strip things down when they’re in Teide. “There’s a time for giving the riders all the support and a time for focusing them on the things that matter. Up here we try to eliminate all the distractions.” He then adds: “We’ve been here eight times and only once have the testers come. It’s only a two-hour flight from Spain, a 50-minute drive from the airport. Once in eight visits here is pretty disappointing.”

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