Former Rabobank and Team Sky doctor Geert Leinders has been handed a lifetime ban by the US Anti-Doping Acency (USADA), Anti-Doping Denmark (ADD), and Anti-Doping Authority Netherlands (Dopingautoriteit). A three-man panel found the Belgian guilty of multiple doping violations from his time as chief team doctor at the Rabobank team.
The hearing took place on August 14, 2014. Neither Leinders nor any of his representatives attended.
“After a hearing at which the detailed evidence, including eyewitness testimony, corroborating documentation and an expert analysis of abnormal blood values of cyclists was presented, the independent Arbitration Panel found that Leinders possessed, trafficked, and administered banned performance enhancing substances and methods without any legitimate medical need, including EPO, blood transfusion paraphernalia, testosterone, insulin, DHEA, LH and corticosteroids to athletes under his care, and was complicit in other anti-doping rule violations,” a statement on USADA’s website read.
Leinders was the team doctor with the Rabobank team in 2007 when Michael Rasmussen was expelled from the Tour de France while in yellow for evading doping controls in the build-up to the race. He left Rabobank in 2009.
Shocking abuse of position
In May of 2012, former Rabobank manager Theo De Rooy told Volksrant that doping had been tolerated on the Dutch team up until at least 2007, saying that it was "a deliberate decision of the medical staff.”
“It shocks the conscious that a Board member and team doctor would abuse his trusted position by overseeing and participating in this type of dangerous and fraudulent activity,” said USADA CEO Travis Tygart. “This case also demonstrates the global commitment of independent anti-doping organizations to ensuring that those who break the rules in an attempt to win and to profit from their cheating are held accountable. As we said from the beginning of our cycling investigation, ridding those in the system who attempt to justify doping as a means to an end is the only way to truly clean up cycling for current and future generations of athletes.”
“Athlete eyewitness testimony can play an important and powerful role in the investigative process, and in this case, Michael Rasmussen’s cooperation and testimony was integral to the outcome,” said ADD Director Lone Hansen. “This case was an important opportunity for ADD to collaborate with our partners at USADA and Anti-Doping Authority Netherlands to pursue a level playing field in cycling, and we know that continued global collaboration is the only way to provide a level playing field for all athletes in all sports.”
After working at Rabobank Leinders was hired by Team Sky in the winter of 2010. He found himself at the centre of a media storm during the Tour de France in 2012 when allegations first surfaced around his time at Rabobank.
The team faced questions during the Tour with Dave Brailsford telling 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.”
The British team later announced that they would hold an internal investigation into the hiring of the doctor and although the details of that procedure were never made public, Leinders’ contract with the team was not renewed in October 2012.
Rasmussen and Leipheimer testify
USADA presented video testimony from former Rabobank riders Michael Rasmussen and Levi Leipheimer. In Rasmussen’s testimony he stated that Leinders first helped him administer insulin from 2003-2005 and that the product was kept on the Rabobank bus during several Grand Tours, including the 2003 Vuelta a España and Tours de France in 2003 and 2004. In 2004, USADA reported that Leinders took a blood sample from Rasmussen’s father in order to determine whether the rider’s parent was a suitable candidate for future blood transfusions.
In Leipheimer’s testimony the American, who spent two years at Rabobank after leaving US Postal, the former rider confirmed that Leinders provided him with testosterone and cortisone during the 2002 Tour de France. The pair also planned a course of EPO for the Tour de France in 2003 but when Leipheimer became injured they chose to shelve the course. Leipheimer also states that Leinders recommended that he receive transfusions of blood from his own brother, with the doctor later administrating the procedure. Also, according the former Rabobank rider’s testimony, he also purchased EPO from Leinders.
Under the restrictions of this sanction, Leinders, is and will be prohibited from training or advising athletes and participating at any event sanctioned by USA Cycling, the International Cycling Union (UCI), or any other WADA Code signatory.
In his testimony, Rasmussen also spoke of meetings between Leinders and UCI chief medical officer Mario Zorzoli – a position he still holds within the UCI, despite a brief suspension in 2006. Rasmussen claimed that the pair met during the first rest day of the 2005 Tour de France after Rabobank had been made aware of his low reticulocyte levels (a potential sign of a blood transfusion) in a doping control test.
“After his meeting with Zorzoli, Dr Leinders told Ramussen that ‘Rabobank was a team that had ‘butter on its head’…meaning that all the problems, doping related problems would slide off,” USADA write in the full decision.
It goes onto say that Leinders refers to Rasmussen as the most protected rider in the race. Rasmussen also claimed that Leinders advised him to use the steroid DHEA (didehydroepiandrosterone) as a result of a recommendation from Zorzoli.
Dopingautoriteit lawyer Steven Teitler also testified that he had been provided with the anonymous results of Rabobank riders between 1997 and 2008. When he discussed this with Zorzoli the Italian told him that he would contact Rabobank to discuss the potential cause of the result with either Leinders or another team doctor.