Orica-GreenEdge have re-hired sports director Matt White – just eight months after firing him following his admission that he doped during his racing career while riding for the US Postal Service team. The Australian WorldTour team has also made public a report prepared by external anti-doping consultant Nicki Vance that it commissioned in the wake of White’s departure last October, and which recommended it re-employ him.
The team says that the return of White, who was last month given a backdated six-month ban by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) as a result of his confession, is consistent with the recommendations of the Vance Report in terms of treating past offences, although he is on 12 months’ probation.
General Manager Shayne Bannan commented: "We asked Nicki Vance, a world-leading expert in anti-doping policy, to examine the policy and practices of the team to ensure that world's best practice is being followed.”
As part of the review, Vance conducted face-to face interviews, typically lasting between 45 minutes and 1 hour, with 27 male riders (other than Cameron Meyer, who was interviewed via Skype and Daniel Teklehaimanot, who was not available when the interviews were conducted between December 2012 and March 2013), as well as 10 female riders and 21 members of staff.
Vance, who has worked in anti-doping for a quarter of a century and was Program Manager for Doping Control for the Sydney 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Games, warned in her report that Orica-GreenEdge’s zero-tolerance approach that it publicised at the time it sacked White may have led some personnel to withhold information, since the interviews were not carried out under oath.
However, she confirmed that “there was no admission from any rider or support personnel about any past practices other than the already known cases of Matt White and Neil Stephens” – the latter, now a Sport Director at Orica-GreenEdge, was a member of the Festina team thrown off the 1998 Tour de France, although he never tested positive during his career.
Vance recommended that “White have his position with OGE reinstated once any ASADA-imposed sanction is completed,” and that “no sanction or workplace penalty be imposed on Neil Stephens.”
Commending Orica-GreenEdge on its general approach to anti-doping, she did raise some concerns – one being what was described as “a large variation of views between the three OGE Team Doctors with regard to the use of supplements.”
She added: “With the current concerns in Australian sport with regard to supplements, it would be prudent for OGE to do a full assessment of the team’s use of supplements, including reviewing the philosophy and guidelines for use as well as ensuring contractual obligations for the team doctors with regard to the distribution of supplements.”
Looking at the sport more widely, she said: “Despite its poor reputation the sport of cycling has changed significantly in the last 5-6 years. The UCI is now implementing the newer anti-doping strategies and conducting a more progressive anti-doping program and is certainly one of the leading IFs in this regard.
“There is a general feeling that cycling at the elite level is now significantly cleaner and it would seem that the important cultural change has been made in the sport although there was still some concern about doping at the lower levels of cycling where riders are not exposed to the same requirements.
“It would be naive to think (as acknowledged by many OGE riders and staff) that there was no ongoing doping at all levels but that cases are now the result of an individual rider’s decision to dope and not facilitated by teams.”
Vance did acknowledge, however, that the current situation within the sport itself was at odds with the perception of cycling among the wider public, especially in light of the Lance Armstrong scandal.
Commenting on the report, Bannan said: “The Vance Report concluded that Orica-GreenEdge is working on the right foundations, and I am pleased that all recommendations will be implemented in the few areas identified where the team's commitment to anti-doping can be strengthened and improved.
“After all, the health of the team's riders and the future of the sport is our number one priority.”
Regarding White’s reappointment, Bannan commented: "I am also delighted to welcome back Matt White to the team in the position of Sports Director. We have reviewed and will constantly continue to review our management, and it was clear that Matt White is the right person for the job.
“I am sure he again will be an invaluable part of our management and a true asset to the riders and the staff. His perspective on the sport and his commitment to make cycling better are both key elements to our success and our identity.
Bannan insisted that re-engaging White “is consistent with the framework for treating past and future offences recommended in the Vance Report, and the team has gone further by making Matt White's appointment subject to a 12 month probationary period.
“This is all part of a constant evaluation structure we are putting in place regarding our management. We are not only fully committed to using the report as a guideline for our team but would also like to continually use it as the best possible basis for our decision-making when approaching key elements of the sport.
"Cycling has changed for the better a long time ago, but there is still work to be done. We’re more than willing to share the responsibility with the other stakeholders in cycling and the implementation of the recommendations in the report is a big step forward.
“There are no simple solutions to complex issues, but with a common goal to move forward and continue the good work already being done, we’re able to live up to the expectations for a clean and exciting sport," he added.
White, currently working with Orica-GreenEdge at the Tour de Suisse, will not however be returning to his former part-time role as professional men’s road co-ordinator at Cycling Australia, where he acted as liaison between the governing body and Europe-based pros.
The reappointment of White in line with Vance's recommendation marks a departure for Orica-GreenEdge from its zero tolerance approach, which previously was similar to that operated by Team Sky, which itself saw rider Michael Barry, race coach Bobby Julich and sports director Stephen de Jongh depart in the wake of the Armstrong affair, after each confessed to having doped during their racing careers.
Sean Yates also left the team during the same period; the stated reason was health and family reasons, but the timing was unfortunate, given that he had worked with Armstrong at Dsicovery Channel and Astana, and his picture appeared in an Appendix to the US Anti-Doping Agency's Reasoned Decision, next to the French bike shop ownner singled out as 'Motoman,' who couriered drugs on Armstrong's behalf.
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.