Staffing restrictions an issue for British team
Team Sky boss Dave Brailsford has admitted that he may be forced to relax the British outfit's "zero tolerance" policy towards doping as he looks to hire staff who will lift the squad's success rate in 2011.
The experienced general manager, who enjoyed immense success with Great Britain's 2008 Beijing Olympics campaign before heading up Sky's ProTeam outfit, says that the original approach will remain, albeit in a more relaxed and pragmatic setting.
"There's no place for drugs in the sport and we like to think that, with a few other teams, we're at the forefront of trying to promote clean cycling. That philosophy will always stay. If we thought it wasn't possible then I'd be out," he told The Guardian newspaper.
"However, when you're trying to lift performance and you look at the staffing side, if you want experience of professional cycling you have to go back a long way to find people over 40 who haven't been tainted in some way by many of cycling's past problems."
It comes off the back of talks Brailsford and Sky management held with ex-Festina rider and former Caisse d'Epargne directeur sportif Neil Stephens last year; the Australian was part of the Festina team which was ejected from the 1998 Tour de France when it emerged Richard Virenque had doped.
Additionally he was a sports director when the Liberty Seguros team was implicated in Spain's Operacion Puerto affair. Brailsford said that Sky decided not to hire Stephens, who will instead be a directeur sportif at the new GreenEDGE outfit run by former Australian Institute of Sport high performance manager Shayne Bannan.
Brailford wouldn't rule out looking at other figures with a 'tainted' past, however.
"It's very dependent on the individual and his history. You have your anti-doping policy and belief but you need to weigh it up and if the need of the team was such and there was an individual who was generally considered in the 'positive' group, to excuse the pun, then he couldn't be ruled out," he explained.
As for the riders...
Asked if he would consider hiring the likes of David Millar, who successfully returned to the sport after a two-year ban for doping offences, Brailsford remained firm on the team's philosophy of not granting those riders with a history of doping a place in the team.
"We'll probably stick to our policies at the moment. I don't see us signing somebody who has come back after a doping ban," said Brailsford.
"But maybe somebody who is a 45-year-old sports director, who has held his hand up and said this is what I did in the past, and has since worked for clean teams for a long period of time and has vast experience that would benefit the team … that's a decision which is a bit more difficult to decide. It's on the margins."
Brailsford also pointed out that Michael Barry, who was tarred with the same brush Floyd Landis took to the likes of other former US Postal riders Levi Leipheimer, David Zabriskie and most notably Lance Armstrong, was signed before Landis' allegations emerged last year.
"When we signed Michael Barry we took him on face value. You have to have experienced riders of that calibre in your team. They need to help the leaders. They need to be wise to the peloton and how it all works," explained Brailsford.
"Michael had a personality we liked. He came from a period of riding with Columbia [now T-Mobile] and we were very confident in Bob Stapleton's set-up and that they were a very clean team and so we took him on that basis.
"We didn't have any information to suggest anything else. Who knows where these things will end up. But we'll base our decisions on facts when they appear. As it stands we support Michael and give him the benefit of the doubt.
"But if something comes out in the future then we'll review it as we go along. All decisions will be based on the fact that anything we do should be proportional. But he has been such an asset to us. He's got a lot of respect and people like his persona."