Richie Porte backs Team Sky's zero tolerance policy but regrets staff departures
Tasmanian sorry to see mentor Bobby Julich and DS Sean Yates leave team
Team Sky rider Richie Porte has spoken out in support of his teams' zero tolerance approach to employing riders or support staff who have been associated with doping in the past. That policy has led three senior members of the team's backroom staff to leave including Bobby Julich, who had also coached the 27-year-old Tasmanian at his former team, Saxo Bank.
Speaking to The Examiner, Porte also echoed David Millar's comments that the current generation of cyclists were not the problem but were being made to pay for the sins of their predecessors. He also said that the pro peloton had known about Armstrong's doping since 2010.
"It's not our generation that's the problem but we are the ones that have to answer to it," insisted Porte, who has just completed his first season with Team Sky, winning the overall title in the Volta ao Algarve in February and going on to become a key member of the squad that supported Bradley Wiggins’ victory in the Tour de France.
"Cycling has skeletons in its closet but really does air its dirty washing in public,” he went on. "It may have taken a fair few body blows but it is only going to get cleaner with the cheats being caught and what other sport is doing more than cycling to change?
"It's a shame that cycling is a laughing stock but you've got to take the good with the bad. For guys in my generation, it's very sad because doping is non-existent, especially in our team.
"But unfortunately good people sometimes do bad things and we've lost guys like Bobby [Julich], who I was very close to. Any dealings I had with him were absolutely professional.”
Julich was the first of three members of Team Sky’s coaching staff to leave in the wake of the Armstrong affair, admitting that he had doped up until 1998.
“Since I turned pro Bobby is probably the guy I've had the most to do with and I'll miss him,” added Porte, who prior to joining Team Sky spent two seasons with Saxo Bank, winning the best young rider classification in the 2010 Giro d’Italia, a race in which he also wore the maglia rosa.”
Besides Julich, sports director Steve de Jongh also left after confessing to having doped in the past, while both Yates and Sky insist that his retirement from cycling was due to health and family reasons.
"Sean Yates was also brilliant,” reflected Porte. “He's very charismatic and the hard man of the sport. He'd be up every morning before everyone else riding his bike. As a director, I've never known one that connects so well with his riders.
"It's sad to lose Bobby, Sean and Steven de Jongh but that's cycling. People come and go in our career."
The trio left Team Sky in the wake of the British ProTeam requiring all staff to reaffirm their commitment to its anti-doping policy after publication of the United States Anti-Doping Agency’s reasoned decision in the Armstrong case, which revealed that Sky rider Michael Barry was one of the witnesses against the Texan.
Barry himself received a six-month ban after owning up to having used performance enhancing drugs, although he had previously announced his retirement as a rider.
"Especially after the season we had, ending as the No.1-ranked team in the world it was a bit sad that instead of celebrating our season we were talking of the past,” Porte reflected.
“I do understand Dave Brailsford is under a lot of pressure and has to make some tough calls, which he has done during the past two weeks.
“I believe Sky and Dave have shown that they aren't just talking tough but also putting into action their commitment to a zero tolerance on doping."
Turning to the issue of Armstrong, Porte said: "We [the peloton] first knew in 2010 and really it's taken two and a half years to come out.
“But now is the time to do it rather than the week before the Tour when journalists usually like to break these stories."
Suspicions had of course been voiced about Armstrong as far back as 1998 and were certainly widespread by the time he won his seventh Tour in 2005, although 2010 was the first season in which Porte competed at the highest level.
However, the build-up to this year’s race was certainly overshadowed by the emerging scandal, and not because of the actions of the press – USADA laid its charges against Armstrong and others less than three weeks before the Tour began, with its disciplinary committee authorising the case to go ahead on the eve of the Grand Depart itself.
The year 2010 was also when Team Sky made its debut, with Yates recruited as sports director from Astana, where he had performed a similar role in the 2009 season when Armstrong rode there.
Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live last month, Yates had insisted he had no idea that the Texan, whom he rode with at Motorola in the 1990s and also worked alongside at Discovery Channel in 2005 after moving into management, had been doping.