Former Team Sky and Rabobank doctor Geert Leinders has been banned from involvement with competitive sport for life following an investigation conducted by anti-doping authorities in the United States, Denmark and the Netherlands.
The decision is likely to lead to further questioning of the judgment of Sir Dave Brailsford and Team Sky to engage him on a freelance basis from late 2010, the year after he left Rabobank, which coincided with the Dutch team introduced a stict anti-doping policy.
The sanction was announced today by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), Anti-Doping Denmark (ADD), and Anti-Doping Authority Netherlands, and follows an investigation that began in 2012.
At that time Leinders, a Belgian national, was working on an ad hoc basis with Team Sky, but his ban is due to his work as chief team doctor for Rabobank, a position he left in 2009, and is based in large part on testimony provided by witnesses including that team’s former rider, Michael Rasmussen.
The Dane was leading the Tour de France in 2006 when he was sacked by his team after it transpired that he had lied about his whereabouts while training in the build-up to the race, claiming he was in Mexico but being spotted in Italy.
Rasmussen, who has recently begun a new career as a drugs outreach worker helping young people deal with substance abuse problems, confessed to his doping in early 2013 and has helped anti-doping authorities piece together the culture of drug-taking at Rabobank and other teams.
USADA says that following a hearing, its independent arbitration panel determined that Leinders, a board member of the Rabobank team’s management company, had “possessed, trafficked, and administered banned performance enhancing substances and methods without any legitimate medical need, including EPO, blood transfusion paraphernalia, testosterone, insulin, DHEA, LH and corticosteroids to athletes under his care, and was complicit in other anti-doping rule violations.”
The panel said: “As the chief team physician and a member of the board of directors for the Rabobank cycling team, Dr. Leinders occupied even higher positions of trust and responsibility” than other team support staff such as coaches, trainers and team doctors.
USADA CEO Travis Tygart, who led the investigation that in 2012 led to Lance Armstrong’s lifetime ban, said: “It shocks the conscious[sic] that a Board member and team doctor would abuse his trusted position by overseeing and participating in this type of dangerous and fraudulent activity.
“This case also demonstrates the global commitment of independent anti-doping organizations to ensuring that those who break the rules in an attempt to win and to profit from their cheating are held accountable,” he continued.
“As we said from the beginning of our cycling investigation, ridding those in the system who attempt to justify doping as a means to an end is the only way to truly clean up cycling for current and future generations of athletes.”
Lone Hansen, director of ADD, underlined the role that Rasmussen had played in bringing Leinders to account.
“Athlete eyewitness testimony can play an important and powerful role in the investigative process, and in this case, Michael Rasmussen's cooperation and testimony was integral to the outcome,” he said.
“This case was an important opportunity for ADD to collaborate with our partners at USADA and Anti-Doping Authority Netherlands to pursue a level playing field in cycling, and we know that continued global collaboration is the only way to provide a level playing field for all athletes in all sports.”
USADA says that as a result of the ruling, Leinders is “prohibited from training or advising athletes and participating at any event sanctioned by USA Cycling, the International Cycling Union (UCI), or any other WADA Code signatory” – effectively banning him from any involvement with sport.
Neither Leinders nor his lawyers in Belgium, who said he had not mandated them to represent him in proceedings in the United States, attended the arbitration panel’s hearing, held in Washington DC last August, despite USADA saying it was the doctor himself who requested it
Besides Rasmussen, other witnesses giving testimony by video link included former Rabobank rider, Levi Leipheimer. Both admitted having taken EPO and other substances and taking part in banned procedures under Leinders’ supervision.
There is no suggestion in the USADA decision that Leinders was involved in doping after he was engaged on an occasional freelance basis by Team Sky in late 2010.
In 2013, after Leinders was charged, Sky team principal said that taking the doctor on board had been “a mistake.”
“The whole thing is my responsibility,” he said. “I will take that squarely on the chin. It’s something I regret, it’s a mistake. I should not have done it. I made an error of judgment.”
Leinders had been employed by Sky after illness swept through the team in the early days of the 2010 Vuelta, which it abandoned following the death following an unrelated bacterial infection of soigneur Txema Gonzalez.
The reason given for engaging him was that Sky, which in its early days employed only UK-based doctors with no previous involvement with cycling on the Continent, felt in hindsight that it was ill-prepared to deal with the specific demands of the sport, and Leinders was available.
During the 2012 Tour de France, the team came under criticism for its relationship with him, but Brailsford said at the time: “I categorically, 100 per cent say that there’s no risk of anything untoward happening in this team since he been with us.
“I’ve seen nothing and neither have the full-time medics. I’d put my life on it. He’s done nothing wrong here, but we have a reputational risk.”
Leinders was not part of Team Sky’s staff during that race, and Sky severed relations with him in October that year – the same month that Bobby Julich, Stephen De Jong and Sean Yates all left the British World Tour team in the wake of USADA’s decision in the US Postal case.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.