Just hours after Australian Cameron Meyer opened Garmin-Cervélo’s 2011 account by taking the overall win at the Santos Tour Down Under, the team’s director at that race, Matt White, was fired for violating a team rule concerning riders and outside medical care.
Garmin team manager Jonathan Vaughters told VeloNews he had no choice but to end White’s tenure with the team after recently learning that White had sent Trent Lowe, a former team rider, to see Spanish doctor Luis del Moral in April 2009.
Lowe told VeloNews on Monday that he would not comment. “Sorry but I cannot comment on anything at this stage,” he said in an email.
Del Moral oversaw the U.S. Postal Service team’s medical staff from 1999 to 2003, and was the medical director for the U.S. national cycling team at the Sydney Games in 2000. He is now the director of the Institute of Sports Medicine of Valencia, in Spain, and runs Performa, an exclusive sports training center.
Del Moral has denied seeing any signs of doping during his time with the U.S. Postal Service team. However at the 2000 Tour de France, a French TV crew filmed the Spanish doctor and team chiropractor Jeff Spencer as they drove a distance from the team’s hotel and disposed of medical waste, including over 100 used syringes, intravenous equipment, insulin, and empty vials of Actovegin — an extract obtained from filtered calf blood that increases glucose utilization and is reported to increase oxygen uptake and utilization.
In November 2000 U.S. Postal team manager Mark Gorski issued a statement asserting that del Moral had brought Actovegin to the race with full approval of French medical controllers, claiming, “Actovegin was available to be used to treat severe skin abrasions due to crashes and to aid one of our staff members who has diabetes.” French officials investigated the incident but ultimately did not press charges.
After Floyd Landis admitted to doping throughout his career last year and accused former Postal riders and staff, including del Moral, of engaging in a systematic doping program, the Spanish doctor called the allegations “ridiculous.”
Landis rode at U.S. Postal from 2002-2004; White was a member of the team from 2001 to 2003; Vaughters was a member of the team in 1998 and 1999.
As part of Garmin’s internal blood-monitoring program, which began in 2007 in response to Landis’ positive drug test at the 2006 Tour, the team has an explicit internal policy that its medical staff, led by head physician Prentice Steffen, must approve all medical referrals. Under no circumstances would team management approve a doctor with a history such as del Moral’s, Vaughters said.
Vaughters told VeloNews that Lowe only recently informed him of his 2009 visit to del Moral, while disputing Lowe’s final 2010 compensation. A promising young rider who spent most of the 2009 and 2010 seasons battling injury and chronic fatigue, Lowe had not raced since April 2010, and had signed with Pegasus Sports for 2011. After Vaughters informed Lowe he would not be paid for December 2010, Lowe informed Vaughters that he’d visited del Moral while on the team.
White and Lowe are both Australians, and both maintain a European home in Valencia. Vaughters said White sent Lowe to see del Moral in April 2009 for blood and VO2 max tests because of the doctor’s proximity — Valencia is a four-hour drive from the Garmin team’s European headquarters in Girona.
“(White) told me that he sent Trent to see del Moral because Trent lives in Valencia, and that’s really the only place he could send him for that kind of testing,” Vaughters said. “I would have much preferred that he make the drive to Girona. Initially (White) told me that he’s sent his wife and kid (to see del Moral) for blood testing. Maybe so, but you can’t expose a young athlete to someone who has that kind of reputation. It breaches team protocol, and everything we’ve ever said we stand for. It just can’t be tolerated.”
Vaughters said he was compelled to review White’s phone records and team email account to be sure White had not had sent other riders to del Moral, or had additional contact with the Spanish doctor, adding that he was confident it was an isolated incident. He then consulted with the Slipstream Sports board of directors, which came to the consensus that White must be terminated.
Gerard Vroomen, CEO of Cervélo, said losing White from the team was “tough news,” but added that it gave him added confidence in the Slipstream organization. “It’s easy to take a tough stance when there are no consequences. It’s much more impressive when a team is willing to take a bullet to protect its philosophy, and the sport in general.”
Vaughters traveled to Australia to notify White and the team’s Tour Down Under riders in person; five of those riders are Australians.
“I don’t think anything nefarious went on there, with Matt or Trent,” Vaughters said. “I just think it was immensely stupid on Whitey’s part. You cannot jeopardize an entire team through unilateral, unapproved actions. Prentice (Steffen) didn’t know (Lowe had gone to del Moral), I didn’t know. I think it was just very, very poor decision making. We made a promise to our riders and to the world when we started this team. We live, every day, by the standards we have set for ourselves.”
White issued a statement confirming the conversation between he and Vaughters arose due to the 2009 medical referral.
“My commitment as sports director has always been to ensure the optimal health and well-being of our riders,” White said. “So when Trent Lowe, who was living in Valencia and who had been sick for a long time, came to me for help, I sent him to the local Valencian sports institute for testing so we could find out what we were dealing with. I understand that the rules are the rules. I am sorry for my mistake and I am ready to move on. There is so much opportunity for cycling overseas and here in Australia, that the decision really will be best for both of me and for the team. The lads know I wish them all the best for 2011.”
Vaughters added that White’s dismissal had nothing to do with reports that White has been linked to the 2012 Australian ProTeam GreenEDGE Cycling.
Cycling Australia, which is closely affiliated with the new team, announced last week that White had been appointed pro men’s road team coordinator for the federation’s high-performance program. White replaced Neil Stephens, who stepped down to join former Cycling Australia high performance director Shayne Bannan at GreenEDGE. At the same time White was announced as CA’s road coordinator, media reports surfaced that GreenEDGE was courting several Australian riders including Meyer and Jack Bobridge.
“Even if Matt White was going to GreenEDGE next year, we would have continued working together through the end of the 2011 season,” Vaughters said. “This has nothing to do with that.”
In White’s absence, Vaughters said he would step behind the wheel and fill in as the team director in the interim until the team announced a replacement.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to correct the date Lowe visited Luis del Moral. It was in April 2009, not December 2010 as previously reported. It has also been updated with a reaction from Matt White.