Sky may relax ‘zero tolerance’ doping policy

LONDON (AFP) - British cycling's Team Sky may relax its "zero tolerance" doping policy as they seek to hire staff capable of improving the outfit's performance, it was reported Tuesday.

2011 Tour of Oman, stage 1, Kurt Asle Arvenson (Sky Racing) chases
Team Sky's Kurt Asle Arvenson chases the break during Tuesday's stage of the Tour of Oman

LONDON (AFP) – British cycling’s Team Sky may relax its “zero tolerance” doping policy as they seek to hire staff capable of improving the outfit’s performance, it was reported Tuesday.

Team Sky general manager Dave Brailsford told The Guardian that the policy may be softened because of the difficulties in finding support staff who had not been tainted by the drugs scourge.

“There’s no place for drugs in the sport and we like to think that, with a few other teams, we’re at the forefront of trying to promote clean cycling. That philosophy will always stay,” Brailsford said.

“However, when you’re trying to lift performance and you look at the staffing side, if you want experience of professional cycling you have to go back a long way to find people over 40 who haven’t been tainted in some way by many of cycling’s past problems.”

Brailsford conceded that Team Sky had last year held talks with Neil Stephens about a possible role with the team. Stephens was part of the Festina team who were kicked out of the scandal-hit 1998 Tour de France.

Australian Stephens was the only Festina rider not to be sanctioned in the scandal, claiming he presumed his team-mates had been injecting themselves with vitamins. However Stephens was later dragged into the Operation Puerto scandal in 2006, serving as sporting director of the implicated Liberty Seguros team.

Brailsford said that while there were no plans for Sky to hire Stephens, Sky would not necessarily shy away from controversial figures in future, even if the “zero tolerance” policy would remain in place for riders.

“We’ll probably stick to our policies at the moment. I don’t see us signing somebody who has come back after a doping ban,” Brailsford said.

“But maybe somebody who is a 45-year-old sports director, who has held his hand up and said this is what I did in the past, and has since worked for clean teams for a long period of time and has vast experience that would benefit the team — that’s a decision which is a bit more difficult to decide.

“It’s on the margins.”

Team Sky will tackle this year’s Tour de France hoping that Bradley Wiggins, who achieved a stunning fourth place finish in 2009, finds the going easier than the 2010 edition when the Londoner finished 24th overall.

A number of ex-riders who have been involved in or admitted to doping currently work in the professional peloton.

Saxo Bank-Sungard is run by former Tour de France winner Bjarne Riis of Denmark, who in 2007 confessed he had used performance-enhancing substances during his career.

In 2007 sprint legend Erik Zabel, a six-time winner of the Tour de France green jersey, and fellow German Rolf Aldag admitted to using the banned blood booster EPO (erythropoietin) at the end of the 1990s.

Zabel has worked as a consultant with the HTC-HighRoad team, where Aldag is one of the team’s sports directors.