Updated: Team Sky confirm Sean Yates' retirement from cycling, Steven de Jongh also reportedly leaving
Sky says Yates retiring for personal reasons days after Bobby Julich left team in wake of Armstrong affair
Team Sky has confirmed this afternoon that Sean Yates has retired from cycling "for personal reasons." The news comes hours after it had been reported that Yates, together with fellow Sports Director Steven De Jongh, would be leaving the team as a result of its internal investigation into doping in the wake of the US Postal scandal. In a press release Team Sky insists that after interviewing Yates, as it is doing with all its riders and staff, "there were no admissions or disclosures that would have required him to leave the team." Yates himself, who has had heart problems in the past, confirmed that medical reasons lay partly behind his decision.
The 52-year-old said: “I have suffered with my health in recent years and have spent a lot of time away from my home so I feel the time is right to focus on myself and my family."
In an interview with BBC Kent in 2007 ahead of the Tour de France Grand Depart in London he revealed that he had been suffering from a heart condition since around 2003.
"I realise the timing of my retirement will lead to speculation but I can walk away with my head high knowing I have done nothing wrong," he added.
His leaving the team follows the departure of Bobby Julich earlier this week, and with De Jongh said to be on his way out too, leaves Sky's management seriously depleted with less than three months to go to the start of the 2013 WorldTour season.
In a brief statement released this afternoon, Team Principal Dave Brailsford said: "Sean joined us in our first year and has been with us for three tough but rewarding seasons.
“After a long career in professional cycling, he has told us that he wants to move on, for purely personal reasons.
“Sean has been a great support to the riders on the road and a valuable colleague to us all. We wish him the best for the next step in his life.”
As sports director at sky Yates, who is one of five British riders to wear the Tour de France’s maillot jaune, guided Bradley Wiggins to his victory in the race this summer and his departure will be a huge blow to the team.
It's also worth noting that according to Sky's press release, Yates has ceased involvement with the sport altogether, rather than putting himself back on the job market where his CV would have seen him snapped up by another team.
Questions were raised about Yates in the wake of USADA’s publication of its Reasoned decision in the Lance Armstrong case earlier this month.
Yates had ridden alongside Armstrong at Motorola, and then acted as DS to the Discovery Channel team in 2005 and was back working with the American again at Astana in 2009.
The morning after USADA’s publication of its evidence, Yates claimed on BBC Radio 5 Live that he had no suspicions whatsoever that Armstrong had used performance enhancing drugs, a comment that attracted widespread derision.
The USADA dossier included a picture of Yates himself with the man alleged to be the infamous motoman who is said to have delivered EPO via motorbike to US Postal riders during the 1999 Tour - not in itself evidence of anything untoward, but unfortunate for Yates as questions began to be asked about what he might know.
Dutch national de Jongh meanwhile, whose main focus at Sky was on its Classics campaign, rode during the 1990s with the TVM-Farm Frites team, which was itself wound up due to its involvement in doping scandals.
News of the departure of the pair, which follows that of Julich earlier this week and retired rider Michael Barry, one of the former team mates of Armstrong who testified against him to USADA, was broken last night by Telegraph.co.uk.
With the new season beginning in less than three months’ time with the Tour Down Under, it looks a near impossible task for Sky to immediately replace Yates, de Jongh and Julich, particular given the team’s zero tolerance approach to doping, which has seen it require all staff to reconfirm their commitment to its anti-doping policy.
Last week, Brailsford suggested that the team would seek to be sympathetic towards any staff who confessed to past involvement with doping as part of that process, suggesting that it might be softening its approach, although after it was revealed that Julich would be leaving the team, Brailsford said it was "highly likely" that others would follow.
The departure of Julich and now Yates, as well as de Jongh, if the latter is also true, appears to confirm that there is no room for flexibility on Sky’s part.