After yesterday's revelations that former Garmin-Transitions rider Trent Lowe threatened to release details about former US Postal team physician Dr Luis Garcia del Moral during a contract dispute, team boss Jonathan Vaughters says he's baffled why the Australian chose to take his current course of action.
It followed the dismissal of former Garmin directeur sportif Matt White, who referred Lowe to del Moral's clinic in Valencia. Slipstream Sports fired White on the grounds that his actions contravened team policy concerning the use of physicians not approved by the squad's medical staff prior to any consultation.
According to a press release issued by Slipstream Sports yesterday, Lowe "threatened to publicly expose certain information relating to Dr. Luis Garcia del Moral unless Slipstream acceded to their demands, which included a payment of $500,000".
"That's a figure ($500,000) that was given to us by Martin Hardie; that's just a figure he came up with and the implication is that he would release information that showed [Slipstream Sports doctor] Prentice [Steffen] and myself overlooked del Moral's name on letterheads if we chose not to comply with the $500,000 demand," Vaughters told Cyclingnews.
"I don't know what Trent's motivations are in all this; Trent's a nice guy, a respectful person and I've always liked him a lot. I don't know what kind of advice he's getting from the outside at this point in time."
Lowe had been advised by Martin Hardie, a law lecturer at Deakin University in Geelong, Australia, and Vaughters says that the team has only had contact with the man who organised last year's anti-doping conference which featured presentations by the likes of Floyd Landis and the late Aldo Sassi.
"The only person we've had contact with is Martin. I've tried to write to Trent a couple of times to talk to him directly but every single time Martin has answered for him as opposed to [me speaking to him] directly," explained Vaughters.
"This is very much a new experience for us - we've always said from the beginning of the team that we'd be totally transparent and we are - we're being transparent about everything that's going on."
Bill of clean health?
Lowe took his third quarterly health check - which requires a blood test, as mandated by the UCI - in June 2009 and in December last year the rider told Vaughters via email that this procedure had taken place in del Moral's clinic.
"The quarterly health check does not require you to go to a doctor - it doesn't require any interaction with a doctor who could prescribe medicines or a treatment to you," explained Vaughters.
"It's simply that the rider, of his own volition, can go to any clinic and he simply gives them a list of different elements that need to be tested for in his blood that is required by the UCI - that clinic then sends those results to the rider and then he would send those to [Slipstream Sports doctor] Prentice Steffen and Prentice then sends it onto the UCI.
"We make absolutely no requirements [regarding the choice of doctor to conduct the health check]," continued Vaughters. "Is it annoying that he went to del Moral's clinic? Sure. But that was his choice and since there's no interaction with the doctor or medicines being prescribed as a result of that, we're not going to require that the rider goes to a certain clinic because they're just going for a quarterly blood test - as is required by the UCI."
Vaughters explained the implications inherent in Lowe's correspondence thus: "I think that they're implicitly saying, 'Look, here's some letterhead that you didn't read, we're going to go public and show that you were complicit'. Prentice or myself can't name any letterhead on any of the riders' [letters] who have sent in their quarterly exam.
"It's not something that we look at - we're focused on the data. When you go into a clinic for a blood test this is not an interaction where medications could be prescribed or treatment could be prescribed. It is simply an interaction to get a test that is then sent to the team physician which is then sent to the UCI," he continued.
"All of these clinics have an attending physician, and the attending physician was del Moral. Did we miss that on the letterhead? Yes we did. But is that nefarious and imply complicity? I certainly don't think so but that's the threat here.
"It's really unfortunate timing but our decision was based on policy and nothing more. It is pedantic of us to have to take that action. It's just that we have to live and die by the rules we make for ourselves."