Team Sky welcomed the news today that former team doctor Geert Leinders has been banned for life for a series of doping violations he committed while working at the Rabobank cycling team.
The Belgian doctor held a board position at the now-defunct Rabobank team and was the chief doctor there until 2009. He has been sentenced by US Anti-Doping Acency (USADA), Anti-Doping Denmark (ADD), and Anti-Doping Authority Netherlands (Dopingautoriteit) for possession, trafficking, and administering banned performance enhancing substances and methods, including EPO, blood transfusion paraphernalia, testosterone, insulin, DHEA, LH and corticosteroids, without any legitimate medical need, to athletes under his care at the Dutch team.
Leinders was hired by Team Sky in the winter of 2010 and worked a reported 80 days for the squad. His position came into question during the 2012 Tour de France when allegations were first raised against him after the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant ran allegations by former Rabobank team manager Theo de Rooy that doping was a "medical decision" taken by the team's staff, which included Leinders.
Team Sky found themselves having to defend his recruitment during a race they ultimately went on to win with Bradley Wiggins. They promised an investigation in Leinders’ recruitment and stated that they were utterly unaware of his doping past when they hired him. In October of that year they announced that the doctor’s services were no long required and his contract was not renewed.
A Team Sky spokesperson responded to Cyclingnews’ request for a comment with a statement: “We welcome this decision which relates to Dr Leinders' time at Rabobank. As is well known Dr Leinders did work at Team Sky on a freelance basis for a short period. Although nothing improper happened during his time at Team Sky we have acknowledged many times that it was a mistake to hire him. We would never have done so had we had any suspicions or knowledge of his past and we have reviewed our recruitment processes and checks as a result.”
Within the documents covering Leinders’ sanction is the claim that Michael Rasmussen, a former Rabobank rider, also spoke of meetings between Leinders and UCI chief medical officer Mario Zorzoli. 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 wrote 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.
Zorzoli still holds his position at the UCI. Cyclingnews contacted USADA, asking if they were shocked that a UCI official would act in such a manner and if they believed he should remain in his position if Rasmussen’s claim was proved correct.
USADA would only respond with, “we have provided UCI and their CIRC the relevant information from this case, and we expect that they will take appropriate action to do what is necessary to protect clean athletes.”
It later issued a statement saying it "welcomes the decision" on the ban of Leinders, adding, "The UCI is aware that the reasoned decision includes allegations made against UCI Doctor and Scientific Advisor Dr. Mario Zorzoli. The UCI is now waiting to receive the full file to look closely into these allegations, and whilst this investigation is taking place, Dr Zorzoli will not be involved in any matters relating to anti-doping. No further comment will be made at this stage."