Geert Leinders, the doctor employed by Sky during 2011 & 2012, while previously employed by Rabobank, where riders are testifying that Leinders doped them, what are we to deduce from this about Sky’s ethical policy & what he was doing there in the first place? He’s now the subject of a criminal investigation by the Belgian public prosecutor, the story is in Cyclingnews here.
Did Sky know?
It’s very hard to believe that somebody high up in Sky didn’t know about the good doctor, we can safely assume that the man at the top Brailsford didn’t have a scooby, otherwise listing somebody like Leinders as an official doctor to the team would have been one incredibly stupid thing to do. If Brailsford had known about Leinders past, then officially linking him to Sky would be tantamount to a brazen “hey we’re doping, and there’s nothing you can do about it”. This isn’t what happened, obviously, so who did know & why didn’t they tell Dave?
The massive change in staff over the winter is probably very closely linked to Sky being involved with Dr Leinders. Consider that Brailsford’s advisors, the one’s who have prior knowledge of doping in cycling, have all left. What would have happened with this zero tolerance policy if one of these Sky staff members had said that Dr Leinders was a doping doctor, Brailsford’s first question would have been “how do you know that”, which leads to many more questions, essentially an admittance that staff members were involved in dodgy practices at some point and had insider knowledge of doping practices & an immediate end of contract. This would lead to anybody with knowledge to keep their mouth shut, or you’re likely losing your job. A case of don’t tell & hope you’re not found out, until the revelations hit the fan over the last few months and the truth had to be told. It looks like anybody ‘in the know’ got booted out after the Leinders truth became known to Brailsford, who had potentially poor knowledge of road racing after focussing solely on track for the past few years with the GB team. Essentially these individuals he naively employed to keep him straight let him down, so they had to leave, their crime was failing to give a warning about Leinders & allowing him to operate within Sky’s structure. We can only hope that the doctor wasn’t up to his old tricks.
To us ordinary punters & fans, if we kept our eyes open we already knew about what was going on. The good Dr Leinders was mentioned in Joe Parkin’s 2008 book “A Dog in a Hat” (a great book about an American’s life as a cyclist in Belgium, well worth a read by the way), as a doctor who doped riders, witnessed by the author. So presumably nobody at Sky had read that book, or nobody who wanted to suggest it was the same Dr Leinders, it’s hard to believe that not one rider had read the book and linked that Dr Lienders to their Dr Leinders, perhaps they’re is an atmosphere of fear, which is surely only magnified by the zero tolerance policy. The peloton must surely also be full of ‘revelations’ regarding the doctor, as any rider who had passed through the Rabobank team must have information, so again, it implies a culture of fear.
I don’t believe that Sky operate a systematic doping system, I think that if any riders do dope, they act with their own specialists outside the ever prying eyes of the management. The biggest mistake Sky made was allowing a character such as Dr Leinders into their inner circle, if a rider was considering doping, then providing an introduction to a reputed doping specialist is a hugely irresponsible thing to do. This is why heads had to roll at Sky, Brailsford must be under a load of pressure now to run a clean house, while Sky have quite rightly made themselves a target for doubters, the Leinders issue is constantly brought up by people like Kimmage. You can understand why.
The zero tolerance policy is obviously raising other issues, among them fear & withholding of information for fear of termination of employment, the policy is flawed & hopefully Brailsford will be modifying it to avoid these issues in the future and regain some respect. Perhaps opening the doors to David Walsh, allowing his open access to all members of the team this year will help, but this is also a risky & somewhat panic influenced tactic, all it takes is one rider to refuse access and the headlines will again be very bad for Sky.
At the end of the day it all comes down to publicity, plenty of mistakes and bad choices have been made from the very top of the Sky machine, it’s likely everything will be even more closely controlled over the 2013 season. It’s currently playing out very well, with Froome winning the Tour of Oman in front of the current Tour favourites & the Colombians riding very well in the Algarve, so with a ‘cleaned out’ management structure & enforced policies, Sky are still producing the goods, time will tell if that continues.