Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Pro-Cycling And The Dirty Doctors

With all the recent US Postal saga grabbing major headlines much of the onus is being placed on riders and team management to come out of the woodwork and condemn those involved and vow to help make the sport cleaner, for good. This, in many cases is just and we all expect those representing the sport to have a hand in putting things right, even those who have not done anything wrong in the past. Whilst all of the attention is on riders, it is often the team doctors who have been responsible for doping programmes and regimes in the past and as little is seen of them in the public eye, many of these Doctors are still at the very core of professional road cycling...

There are of course a few doctors we have all heard of - Michele Ferrari has time and time again been the focus of doping investigations and has, over the years, worked with a good chunk of teams and top riders. He is still under fire as part of the US Postal saga and his home nation have banned athletes from working with Ferrari, indeed he is so well known that one of the most read posts on this blog is about him (here). Ferrari has had a long and extensive career as a doctor within cycling and its difficult to find a team or rider in the modern peloton that hasn't been tainted by his name - but there are some equally dangerous and notorious doctors lurking that many are still turning a blind eye to. Here's a few of them:

Dr Geert Leinders
This name has become more familiar recently thanks to his controversial involvement with Team Sky. Leinders was a Rabobank doctor at the time when Michael Rasmussen was busted during the 2007 Tour de France. It was alleged by a former team manager of Rabobank that the Doctors tolerated widespread doping on the team up until this point, whilst a former rider also said that Leinders had helped him keep his haematocrit level below the permitted maximum. Sky have not extended Leinders contract into 2013 following an investigation by team management - results of which haven't been made public, though his departure from Sky suggests Dave Brailsford didn't really want him sticking around.

Dr Jose Ibarguren Taus
Currently on the books at Omega Pharma-Quickstep in July he was called before the Italian Courts for a hearing involving the Mantova case regarding the use and distribution of banned substances. Taus has never been 'convicted' of doping offences but his career history makes him suspect at the very least. A quick look back shows he was at Festina during the 'Festina affair' and has since worked with Lampre during the Rumsas affair, Euskaltel-Euskadi when Inigo Landaluze was caught with testosterone and Saunier Duval when Leonardo Piepoli and Riccardo Riccó were caught with CERA in the 2008 Tour de France. Willy Voets, the Festina soigneur referred to Dr Ibarguren Taus as 'a doping doctor' - so why has he been relatively overlooked at OPQS - in fact in comparison to Sky and Leinders, the Belgian team has taken very little heat concerning it's backroom staff. Those who like to make bold statements could start asking questions regarding Philippe Gilberts astonishing season in 2011 and Tom Boonens revival in this years spring classics. (I'm not suggesting anything untoward has happened here - but if i can make a connection like that, a team like OPQS should be wary of others doing so. Fellow blogger @TourDeJose has written an in depth piece on Ibarguren Taus Here.

Dr Andrei Mikhailov
Head doctor at Katusha, Mikhailov is a convicted criminal who served time in prison as a result of being caught with a van-load of EPO in 1998. It's easy to say that this was a long time ago - but then again so was Lance Armstrong. People can change but Katusha is not seen as the most transparent team in WorldTour cycling, partly thanks to being bank-rolled by Russian gangsters but only this year Dennis Galimzyanov tested positive for EPO and there are still questions surrounding his 'confession' letter and departure from the team. (see Inner Ring here). In a climate where Dave Brailsford is on the verge of sacking riders for past misdemeanours, is it right that convicted Dr's should be allowed back into the sport? Katusha have been very quiet on the US Postal affair too.

Dr Andrea Andreazzoli
Still listed on Astana's team website as one of their three practising doctors, Andreazzoli joined Astana from his position at Lampre where he was implicated during the Rumsas affair - another dodgy doctor that was summonsed in the Mantova Investigation. Astana another team not exactly radiating a prime anti-doping stance and are yet to express any opinion in the US Postal investigation.

Fabio Bartalucci
Is this another Doctor who has so far evaded Sky's radar? He's on their roster even though in 2001 he was implicated in the 'Blitz Raids' in San Remo where hotels were raided during stage 17 of the Giro d'Italia in 2001and in which numerous banned substances were found. Bartalucci was one of 51 who were indicted. He was also a Doctor at Phonak during the Hamilton/Perez era. It's not an overwhelmingly intolerant CV, but perhaps one that should have been binned by Sky.

I could probably dig deeper and find a lot more but the backroom staff make-up of teams is not often very well publicised. Team doctors are an essential part of any racing team to maintain good health and fight injury, but in an era condemned by USADA and now the UCI doctors were the first port of call for doping supplies and administration. Blood bags and needles are not something riders would necessarily have been messing around with by themselves - transfusions and doping plans have intricacies that only Doctors have the medical knowledge to administer safely and effectively. So why then are convicted and implicated Doctors still heavily involved within the sport and why is it that they are overlooked and details burried amongst the paperwork whilst riders continue to take the majority of the flack? While Sky might be taking the brunt thanks to their anti-doping policy and the Leinders issue - there are many other teams sitting back, quietly employing tainted personal and facing little in the way of accusation and interrogation. Doping was, and still is a cancer than runs deep within the very veins of cycling and yet there are tumours still going undetected in the modern sport...

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