Sky parted company with Leinders at the end of this season, almost five months after former Rabobank manager Theo De Rooy revealed that doping had been tolerated on the team up to 2007, a period in which Leinders was on the Rabobank staff.
Speaking to The Sunday Times, Brailsford repeated his claim that Sky had broken from its policy of only employing doctors who had never before worked on professional cycling teams in the wake of the death of soigneur Txema Gonzalez during the 2010 Vuelta a España.
“We asked a load of people about who to employ, we were given names and recommendations, one of whom was Geert. I think there were four candidates in the end and we flew each one to Manchester,” Brailsford said.
“Steve Peters, a man in whom I have the utmost trust, interviewed the doctors and when you think Steve is a forensic psychologist, you can be certain the process was thorough.”
Brailsford insisted that Leinders was asked about doping in his initial interview but that the team knew nothing of any possible links a doping programme at Rabobank until De Rooy’s revelations emerged in May.
“For sure [doping] was discussed [in the interview]. One hundred percent,” Brailsford said. “Much later, we were confronted with Geert’s former directeur sportif, Theo De Rooy, saying they had a doping programme in the Rabobank team and the medical staff were fully aware of it.”
During the Tour de France, Brailsford promised a full inquiry into Leinders’ role at Rabobank before deciding on his future at Sky, but he was vague on the matter when questioned by Cyclingnews at the world championships in Valkenburg two months later.
“We did the right thing, asked him about it, but didn’t get any concrete information,” Brailsford has now told David Walsh of The Sunday Times. “In the end we told him, ‘We’re going to have to end this association.’ We’ve now employed an Irish guy as a full-time team doctor and we’re back to a British and Irish medical team who haven’t previously worked in cycling.”
Brailsford also defended his team’s new anti-doping policy which requires riders and staff to sign a declaration saying that they have never been involved with doping or else leave the team. The policy, which was introduced in the wake of Michael Barry’s confession to doping as part of his testimony in USADA’s Lance Armstrong investigation, has thus far seen directeurs sportifs Bobby Julich and Steven De Jongh leave the team after confessing to doping during their racing careers.
“There are options here, of course there are,” Brailsford said. “And we’re entitled to make our decisions as everybody else is entitled to make theirs.
“People will say the zero-tolerance policy on employing those with doping convictions means we are not going to be able to educate ourselves about the past if we exclude them from the team, but we can still talk to people outside the team, still discuss things.”