Sky screw the doping poodle again & the cycling media go ‘meh’

Sean Yates’ fate shows Team Sky will show no mercy in doping cull!’

So blared the headline in the Telegraph newspaper back in October 2012 atop an article by Brendan Gallagher in which the writer lauded Sky’s zero tolerance policy with regards to doping past and present by any of its staff. He wrote:

‘Brailsford’s zero tolerance approach has been derided as naive by some, and unrealistic by others, who argue that drug use has been so widespread in the sport that if only the ‘clean’ people remain, there would be hardly anyone left. But the departure of Yates in particular will resonate around the sport, and Sky can claim to be delivering on their vow to build a scandal-free team.’

“We’ve made clear our commitment to being a clean team and have always been open about the steps we’re taking,” he said last week.

‘”Sky started as a clean team and we will continue to be a clean team. It is the guiding principle to what we do. A British winner of the Tour de France is worthless unless he is a clean rider. People must continue to be able to believe in us.”’

He then presented a 45 minute powerpoint to the assembled journos on how Sky planned to utilise The Power of the Unicorn in its search for yet another marginal gain, but by the time he revealed the animal, which hitherto had been hidden beneath a papier mache rendering of Shane Sutton, the LSD that the scribes had knocked back after lunch was kicking in that hard that no one was quite sure if they’d actually seen a proper unicorn or if it was in fact just a pony with a traffic cone attached to its forehead with masking tape.

CyclingSnooze had only dropped a half though and was um, like, uh, pretty sure that the ‘unicorn’ was indeed a pony, and even had a grainy cell phone image that might have proved it and did consider doing an expose on the incident, but later it was vetoed as someone in the marketing department pointed out that the pony might in the future want to advertise on the site.

I might be digressing here but I can’t tell as the pharmaceuticals are kicking in.

Anyway, Sky are full of crap. Can I put it more simply than that? No.

First it was guys like Yates walking when asked to sign an anti-doping statement, Barry and the Tramadol stuff, then Geert Leinders, the former Rabo doc who was recently banned for life for possession, trafficking and administering banned substances including the blood-booster erythropoietin, testosterone, insulin, DHEA and corticosteroids; with administering blood transfusions, and with covering up anti-doping violations.

Ticking all the boxes there Geert, you’re thorough, if nothing else. Well, that and a stain on your profession.

Then you had Tiernan-Locke and his drinking habit that pushed up his haematocrit level enough to get him kicked off the team –  good thing he and Contador never went out for a meal together eh?

‘Waddya fancy Alberto?’

‘Ah… steak and a few pints, Lockey?’

And now this palava with Servais Knaven.

What has amazed me about this stuff coming out is that just two days ago in The Guardian by Sean Ingle, Brailsofrd was being praised for his cunning and cleverness in looking into developing technology in pursuit of, you guessed it, those marginal gains.

The article, fawning and not mentioning a word about Sky’s willingness to associate itself with riders and staff that at best can be said to raise suspicions, finishes with this:

As always, Team Sky are determined to be at the forefront of it all.’

Sycophantic claptrap if you ask me (the timing of which might make some suspicious folk wonder if Sky knew the DailyMail article was coming out soon, balancing  a negative article with a positive one). Perhaps journalists like Ingle writing this stuff and instead ask the man why his zero-tolerance policy is seen as a sham. Ask him if he understands why Sky’s failure on its promise has led even more fans to lose what little faith they had in the sport. Ask him, too, why they are continuing to stand by Knaven, who, The Daily Mail today is claiming was a doper, despite his repeated insistence that he never took banned drugs.

This is from the article:


  • An expert toxicologist who tested Knaven’s blood, taken when TVM abandoned the 1998 Tour following a police raid that July, testified he had taken EPO
  • Cortisone, a banned endurance steroid hormone that riders are not allowed to take without special permission, was found in his urine
  • A drug called Naftidrofuryl, which widens the blood vessels and is most typically used in the treatment of arterial disease, was also in his urine, as was a trace of the anti-inflammatory drug propyphenazone
  • Sachets of a drug called Persantin was found in Knaven’s room. Also known as dipyridamole, it is a blood thinner designed to prevent clots. There is seemingly no sporting reason for taking it but it could be used as a ‘counterbalance’ for users of EPO, which can dangerously thicken the blood
  • Knaven said: ‘With regard to use of Persantin and Naftidrofuryl, neither of them were illegal or on the list of banned substances. I used them on very rare occasions to get rid of cramps during long stage races.’
  • Statements given to police by Knaven in December 1998, of which the MoS has full transcripts, show that he did not contest the findings of tests on his urine, blood and hair. He said there could be an alternative explanation to the EPO finding other than doping; he had no idea what some of the other drugs were or how they got into his system; admitted taking Persantin, for ‘heavy legs’; and concluded by saying Mikhailov was a good doctor and that he, Knaven, took whatever the doctor told him; the medical evidence was disputed in court.
Knaven; Sky’s the limit

“It is important to remember that no charges were ever brought against Servais. This goes back over 15 years and has been looked at several times during that period,” reads a Sky statement on the matter.

If you think about Sly’s initial zero-tolerance policy from when the team began, it was something to be praised. Many wondered how they could do it with the sport so full of juicers, but they pinned their colors to the mast and for that, they deserved credit. Many scoffed and they have been proven right but Sky did not need to do it. It might have been part-marketing ploy and part genuine, at the time, it’s hard to say completely.

However, it has been a disaster so far, no doubt about that. It is these blatant failures to fulfill that promise and their inability or unwillingness to look to former riders and doctors who were considered clean rather than these who were not that marks Brailsford as a hypocrite on this issue.

What is telling about the state of cycling in a wider sense is that neither the UCI nor any other team either praised Sky when they made their initial zero-tolerance statement not said ‘hey we’ll do that too’, and dare we wonder why?

Because you’d be very hard-pressed to find a DS in the sport now who did not dope when he was a rider, and also because the UCI has at least one doper on its payroll itself (more on that later). Braislford’s decision to go with (should I say try to) zero tolerance was in effect a policy that, if adopted by the UCI itself, would have seen a mass exit of coaches and directeur sportifs leave the sport overnight.

In a sport in which you have a man busted for amphetamine use (Roger Legeay) heading the Movement for a Credible Cycling, another busted for EPO (David Millar) being an athlete representative for WADA, and all those cronies managing teams when they’re not purring over their bank accounts and the plaudits of fools, well, what do you expect?

And still through all this the cycling media will report on this as ‘news’, delivered to the hungry with absolutely zero subjective commentary – if they report on it at all. Why? Because opinions don’t pay the rent, nor do they buy advertising space, not in the bike world.

Right. I’m off to find me a unicorn.










Author: crankpunk

Cycling coach, race organiser, former professional cyclist.

3 thoughts

  1. I have to say that really do find your articles to be quite good and I appreciate that you keep on tilting at windmills.

    I do, however, object to the idea that news should be ever delivered with anything other then objectivity. Your site is not a news site, it’s an op-ed site. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but you need to remember that the goal of any journalist should be to report the facts objectively. And yes I do realize that it is difficult to do that while you have to cozy up to the industry to get any stories whatsoever, that doesn’t change the fact that journalism should be above bias.

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