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Orica riders welcome back White as sports director following suspension

Sports director served a six-month ban after admitting to doping during his career as a rider

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Orica-GreenEdge riders will be quietly welcoming back Matt White to the team following his controversial exit last fall.

Orica management announced this week that White, 39, will return to the Australian team ahead of the Tour de France after admitting he doped during his years on the U.S. Postal Service squad nearly a decade ago.

“Whitey is fantastic. He’s great for morale. We’re wrapped to have him back behind the wheel of the team car,” Orica captain Simon Gerrans told VeloNews via telephone. “We missed him the first part of the year.”

White’s return coincided with the release of an external review of Orica’s anti-doping stance by independent consultant Nicki Vance. The team also vowed to strengthen its anti-doping policies.

Orica officials said this week that despite his admissions of doping during portions of his racing career, White’s return fits with the team’s ethics.

“It was clear that Matt White is the right person for the job,” team boss Shayne Bannon said in a release this week. “His perspective on the sport and his commitment to make cycling better are both key elements to our success and our identity.”

White was “outed” during the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s investigation into the U.S. Postal Service that resulted in a lifetime ban for Lance Armstrong and others last year.

White was referred to as “rider 9” in USADA documents, and pressure grew on White to come clean. He raced on Armstrong’s teams from 2001-2003, and from 2006-2007. Although he never raced on Armstrong’s Tour de France teams, he admitted in October to doping while on the squad.

In the fallout, White immediately lost his job as a sports director with Orica and as Australia’s national team coach. After serving a six-month, backdated ban, White has been welcomed back to the Orica fold on a 12-month probationary period.

White remains extremely popular with riders at Orica and at Garmin-Sharp, where he served as a sports director until 2011. Riders say White brings solid experience, confidence, tactical acumen, and a sense of humor to his role.

“We understand the management’s decision and that he had to serve a suspension,” Gerrans continued. “He brings a lot to the team. He has a wealth of experience as a director. He’s a great motivator for the guys.”

White’s return to Orica is in sharp contrast to Sky, which adopted a strict anti-doping line among its riders and staff in the wake of the Armstrong scandal.

Under pressure both from the media and from sponsors, Sky decided to evict anyone who admitted they had doped at any point of their careers as racers, regardless of how committed they might be today to strong anti-doping ethics.

Bobby Julich, who worked at Sky as a trainer, was among those riders who dared to tell the truth. He was immediately fired, although BMC Racing recently hired him for a similar role.

White’s return reignites the ongoing debate of how cycling can confront its dirty past and try to push toward a cleaner, more credible future.

This week, the UCI management committee released new guidelines on how the cycling governing body intends to address the complicated issues.

Gerrans expressed the sentiments of many riders today, who say they feel they are being judged for the mistakes of the past.

“I think these guys [like White] have to be held accountable, but at the same time, there needs to be a line drawn in the sand. Everyone has to move on,” Gerrans said. “We can’t dwell forever in the past era of cycling.

“The most important thing is that as long as you learn from that period of time, we can all move on to a better future. We cannot bury our heads in the sand and pretend it didn’t happen. But we also need to focus on the future, not on what happened a long time ago.”

White is expected to be with Orica when the Tour starts in Corsica on June 29.