Garmin-Cervélo's overall victory through Cameron Meyer of the Santos Tour Down Under today has been immediately overshadowed by the shock news that the US-based ProTeam has sacked manager Matt White for referring an ex Garmin Slipstream rider to the clinic of the Spanish doctor Luis Garcia del Moral.
Luis Garcia del Moral, oversaw the medical staff or the US Postal Service team between 1999 and 2003 when USPS star rider Lance Armstrong won five of his seven Tour de France titles. This is also the period in which Floyd Landis has alleged the team undertook an organised and medically supervised programme of doping – a claim strenuously denied by both Lance Armstrong and Dr del Moral.
In a statement, team owner Slipstream Sports says: "It has just come to the attention of Slipstream Sports Board of Directors that in April 2009, Matt White referred former rider, Trent Lowe, to the Sports Institute of Valencia to Dr. Luis Garcia del Moral.
Both White and Lowe has their European homes at the time near Valencia, whereas the team has its European HQ nearly 400km up the coast at Girona, and according to a report on Velo News today, White explained to Vaughters that the proximity to the clinic led him to arrange for Lowe to have a VO2 Max test there.
However, that broke internal rules of the team, which was founded on a very explicit anti-doping platform, as explained in a statement released earlier today.
"Slipstream Sports has an explicit internal policy that all medical referrals are approved by our medical staff. In this instance, this vital rule was broken. As a result, the Board of Directors has dismissed Matt White.
"We want to make it clear that we are parting ways for one reason and one reason only: because this vital team rule was broken," the statement continues.
We are actively looking at solutions for competition and in the interim, Jonathan Vaughters will step in as Director of Competition."
Vaughters, CEO of Slipstream Sports, commented: "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. We cannot allow this vital team rule to be broken.”
Jon Cassat, VP of Communications at team co-sponsor Garmin said: "We initially partnered with Slipstream Sports because we believe in their mission. We remain committed to Slipstream Sports and commend its management for holding true to the organization’s values and high standards.”
Cervélo CEO Gerard Vroomen, CEO, whose company wound up its Cervélo TestTeam at the end of last season and announced it would be supplying and acting as co-sponsor of the Garmin-Cervélo team, lent his backing to Slipsteram's decision.
“It’s tough news but it gives me a lot of confidence in the Slipstream organization," he explained. "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 cycling sport in general.”
The 36-year-old White, a former rider with US Postal Service and Cofidis, has this week been in his native Australia masterminding Garmin-Cervélo's Tour Down Under campaign, and tonight should have been celebrating Cameron Meyer's success. Instead, news of his dismissal is sure to overshadow events on the road.
There is no suggestion within the Slipstream statement that White has done anything wrong besides breaching team medical procedures, but it does so happen that the physician involved, Dr Luis Garcia del Moral, was head of the US Postal Service medical staff during the period currently under investigation in the United States.
There’s no evidence of today’s announcement being linked to that investigation, and the visit cited by Vaughters took place more than a year before Floyd Landis accused Lance Armstrong and other US Postal Service staff – including by implication Dr Garcia del Moral.
Quite why the situation has only come to light now is unclear. The 26-year-old Lowe rode for Discovery Channel, the successor team to US Postal Service, in 2006 and 2007 and would have been under the doctor’s supervision there. He moved to Garmin-Slipstream, as it was then, in 2008, leaving at the end of last season to join Pegasus Sports but currently deemed a free agent after the prospective Australian team failed to obtain either a ProTeam or Professional Continental license.
Just a week ago today, Cycling Australia said that it was appointing White as Road Co-ordinator for its High Performance Programme, succeeding Neil Stephens. White was due to fulfill those duties in addition to his role at Garmin-Cervélo, and according to the Sydney Morning Herald, Cycling Australia is reserving passing judgment until it has the full facts.
Klaus Mueller, Cycling Australia President, told the newspaper: ''We're very, very light on for any information or facts. We simply have no information at this stage which in any way adversely reflects on Matt White.
''He comes to us on the highest recommendations and with the highest of reputations.
''And, quite candidly, we don't quite understand the nature of the allegations that are being made.
''We've got to investigate those, and find out exactly what the allegations are, and we've got to set in train these investigations as a matter of urgency.
''We will try to find those out and do that starting [today]. And hopefully we'll have a chance, once we know what those allegations are, to have a talk to Matt about it,'' he added.
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.