Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Dave Brailsford Interview: Doping & Team Sky's Anti-Doping Policy

The Guardian today published a feature interview with Dave Brailsford ahead of the Track World Cup meeting in Manchester this weekend. The interview was done by perhaps the second best newspaper interviewer in the country, Donald McRae. It is worth checking out his profile to read his past interviews of other sporting stars as they are very interesting and insightful. Perhaps following Paul Kimmage’s lead  McRae has since published the full transcript of the interview on the Guardian website. This is well worth a read for any cycling fan. I managed to fill two sides of A4 with notes while reading the interview so I have plenty more topics and issues to blog about. This first topic that I want to tackle from the interview is the one that most people have been tweeting about since the article was published, Doping and Team Sky’s anti-doping policy.

Donald McRae winning a Sports Journalist Award

Dave Brailsford says that Team Sky is ‘at the forefront of trying to promote clean cycling’.  I would agree that Sky, along with some other teams Garmin  & HTC, have an admirable policy of anti-doping amongst their riders and their rider recruitment. The ethos at Team Sky has always been to create an environment where the riders would never feel the pressure or need to dope. This I think has been achieved. What I feel Team Sky has failed to do is be more public about their anti-doping stance. For example little is known about their in house testing procedures of riders and whether they have a no needle policy. The team that is currently leading the way on this front is Garmin Cervelo as confirmed by the Inner Ring. They in fact go further and have published blood profiles after the 2008 Tour de France of Christian Van De Velde and Bradley Wiggins after 2009 Tour. Sky may be doing all these things as well but nobody in the cycling community knows about them. Why not have a page on their excellent website devoted to anti-doping and explain the measure they take. Part of having an anti-doping ethic in the team is publicly supporting it and this will help change the general ethos in the sport and hopefully enlighten the non-cycling fan of the sports anti-doping efforts. This last point is badly needed considering recent developments.

Bradley Wiggins' Blood Profiles

When asked by McRae if he had changed his ‘zero-tolerance’ thinking by approaching Neil Stephens about joining Team Sky a Sports Director, Brailsford later half of the response was as follows:

And it seems to me and this is the one thing I've learnt: there's a general perception, and this is only an observation on my part, that certain people admitted to doping in the past who apologize and they generally get forgiven. People say, 'OK, fair enough, you've apologized.' I think there is a degree of humility and remorse that they show and people say, 'OK, fair enough, you can have a second chance.' And then there are other people who have done exactly the same thing and yet there are still disliked. There is still a negative towards them. That's interesting to observe. David Miller is now somebody who is generally considered to be a good guy who has come through a difficult time. He's liked again. But there are other individuals who don't get the same leeway. I don't know why…

I hope you excuse me including such a long quote but I think it is the most interesting in the whole article and therefore merits inclusion. My explanation to Brailsford would be that fans of the sport have to deal with so many scandals and doping cases over the years that they become extremely sceptical. As a result they only forgive those who have doped who are very clearly and definitively anti-doping; those who are not clear do not get forgiven.

My own example of this is Rolf Aldag and Brian Holm. They both confessed to doping after they had retired from the sport. The main reason behind their confession was not guilt but the fact that the former Telekom massage therapist Jef d’Hont was going to go public about the doping that went in the team in his new book. Why do I not forgive them? Well at the live screening of ‘Chasing Legends’ at the 02  in London on October 21st there was an question and answer session that took place after the film with both Holm & Aldag along with Cavendish and the film’s director hosted by Phil Liggett. When Liggett asked Holm and Aldag what was the proudest moment of their careers they both responded by saying it was helping Bjarne Riis to victory at the 1996 Tour de France. I almost jumped out of my seat in anger. I am sorry but you did not win that Tour with Riis clean and therefore you did not win that Tour end of. I presume riders like Ricco still believe that he won two Tour de France stages in 2008.  If they still have that attitude then I would not want those sorts of characters coaching, advising and directed promising young talents like Tejay Van Garderen and John Degenkolb.

Brian Holm & Rolf Aldag

The abandonment of Sky’s zero-tolerance policy caused quite a stir on twitter when the article was first published. Blazin’ Saddles was first to get in on the act by jokingly saying that Manolo Saiz must be going to Team Sky.  Others like Flamme Rouge poured scorn on the Sky anti-doping policy by asking ‘This Sky thing about Zero Tolerance was this looked at before or after they signed Sean Yates?’. The Inner Ring passed judgement by saying ‘I don't have a problem with Brailsford's realism, just the idea of "zero tolerance", either you live by it or you ditch it.’ I would agree. Sky’s zero-tolerance approach was always an admirable one but perhaps a bit too idealistic. So many of the professional peloton have been associated with doping one way or another than it makes it very hard to have 100% clean backroom staff. Some would argue that Sky do not have this as Sean Yates is part of their backroom staff I would avoid making a judgement on him. 

Euan Lindsey raised an interested point of view to me on twitter yesterday on this matter. He argued that the ‘zero-tolerance’ was created to try and create a buffer between Team Sky and the track programme in case there was problem created by a positive test.  Ultimately Sky’s new approach comes down to whether you trust Dave Brailsford judgement as he will have the final say in the composition of the team. Personally, and some of you may be surprised to read this, I do trust Brailsford’s judgement on this matter largely because of his decision not hire Neal Stephens.

Lastly Dave Brailsford commented on the ongoing Michael Barry saga about which I recently posted a blog. Brailsford comments are similar to the ones he has made before which I summarised in the previous blog. One of the pieces of feedback I got from that post was again from Euan Lindsey. He argued that Barry may have flirted with doping at his time at US Postal (not too dissimilar to everybody’s favourite anti-doping hero Jonathan Vaughters) and realised it was not for him and that he was more than happy riding clean in support for his team mates and not winning races. I must confess this has always been my opinion although I have no proof to back it up. All I wish is that if this is the case that Barry comes forward and tells the truth. 


  1. Great summary of the issues present with Team Sky. The Holm/Aldbag situation is an interesting one that I think can be explained from titbits in the Landis interview. He speaks about the morality of doping and winning. They are proud of what they did, not how they did it.

    On Brailsford I enjoy how frank he is in the interview, and certainly unlike his equivalents in the pro peloton. I'm not sure you'd catch JV admitting just how he got things wrong. I certainly believe he is attempting a dope free stab at being successful.

    Others I know are pretty suspect of him due to just being involved in the track team. Nasty rumours of gene therapy to get the edge on the track. There is a certain individual who seems to take great pleasure going around spreading hearsay along the lines of "my friend says..."

  2. The zero tolerance thing always seemed moot to me given the presence of Max Sciandri, a former client of Cecchini, in the GB and Sky setups.

    I agree with Euan about the Holm/Aldag thing. Being proud of being part of a winning team and how you achieve that can be separated I think, especially in that era.

    The interview all hinges on what happens in the coming year. If things change and GB and Sky move on, then Brailsford's honesty will be applauded. But if they don't, then he's in a difficult position.

  3. Alex:
    Of course I forgot about Sciandri. BMC have no issues with taking on people with doping backgrounds do they. You would have thought the management would have learned after their experience at Phonak.

    The Hom/Aldag point you both make is pretty valid but I just did not like the way they said it and do not trust them.

    I think it is far to say that Sky now have to back up Dave Brailsford's words with actions. This is what they failed to do last year. Most of the off season Sky have been setting a new ethos for the team and now they have to back it up by performances on the road and through their actions during the season.