Australian Neil Stephens has been linked with a management position at Team Sky as the British-backed squad seeks to strengthen following a disappointing debut Tour de France.

The 46-year-old has been working as a directeur sportif with the Spanish Caisse d’Epargne team this season and had been lined up to join Astana to work with Alberto Contador.

But with Contador confirming today that he will leave the Kazakh-sponsored team at the end of the year, Stephens’ future is up in the air.

Stephens has reportedly been in discussions with Team Sky and described a move to the British team as ‘a dream’.

As a rider, Stephens won a stage of the 1997 Tour de France with the Festina team.

In 1998, he was part of the Festina team that was kicked out of the Tour before the seventh stage of the Tour after performance-enhancing drugs were found in a team car by police. Shortly before the Tour, a team car containing a large quantity of drugs, including EPO, was seized on the French-Belgian border.

Eight of the nine-man Festina team – including Richard Virenque, Laurent Brochard and Alex Zülle – admitted using drugs or were banned. Stephens said he thought the injections he had been given contained legal vitamins. He retired from racing at the end of that season. Stephens was never sanctioned for any doping offence.

In 2006, Stephens was a directeur sportif for the Liberty Seguros team, run by Manolo Saiz. In May, Saiz was arrested as part of the Operacion Puerto investigation into a Madrid-based blood doping ring. Liberty Seguros pulled the plug on its sponsorship, leaving co-sponsor Würth to carry on. Then a Kazakh-consortium of companies, Astana, stepped in to rescue the team and keep it on course for the Tour de France. However, on the eve of the race all the teams agreed that any riders implicated in Operacion Puerto be withdrawn from the race. Once that process was completed, Astana-Würth was left with too few riders to start the Tour, according to the race rules.

Team Sky’s team principal Dave Brailsford launched the team with a strong anti-doping stance, which was seen as important considering the pro team’s close association with British Cycling. Brailsford said last year they would not hire anyone with an ‘association with doping’. He said it explained why Team Sky could not and would not sign David Millar, who was banned in 2004 for admitting using EPO. He told CW last year: “We wouldn’t take any of these guys with a doping conviction. Vinokourov and these guys coming back, would we take them? No. As much as we like Dave [Millar], as much as he’s a reformed character, he did what he did.”

Talking about the difficulties of hiring experienced staff, Brailsford told CW last year: “Listen, anybody over the age of 35 or 30 years old in professional cycling is a concern. End of. End of.”

He added: “The point is to run a clean team. I can only run a clean team from the day that it starts.”

At the team’s launch in London in January, Brailsford said: “We will have our own in-house testing process and it will be done in liaison with the UCI and UK Sport. Our strategy will be to work hand-in-hand with the authorities and show this is a clean team.”

Earlier this week, Brailsford was quoted in the French newspaper saying: “At the beginning I didn’t want anyone who had been involved in a doping case but as soon as you look for someone over 35 years old and very experienced you can hardly find anyone who has never had some kind of problem. I might have to revise my judgement.”

He told The Guardian: “We’re exploring all possibilities in terms of reinforcing the experience of the sports directors. We have to be careful in terms of speculation about who we’re talking to but one thing we’re 100 per cent about is that we’re a clean team and that we’ve just ridden the Tour de France as a clean team.”

  • Ken Evans

    “The 46-year-old has been working as a directeur sportif
    with the Spanish Caisse d’Epargne team this season”

    Valverde is currently suspended from racing for doping,
    he was a member of the Caisse d’Epargne team.
    Valverde has not cooperated with investigations.
    How did Stephens influence Valverde ?

  • Mike

    Vitamin injections? Yea right Neil.

    Lets be sympathetic about this and say he was dim enough to believe they were vitamin injections. Would that sugest a level of intelegence and nouse capable of adding something significant to the management of Team Sky?

    I think not ,either way.

  • MartinC

    Without wishing to state the obvious……at what point has anyone from Sky said they were signing or even talking to Neil Stephens? Stephens stated moving to Team Sky would be ‘a dream’ but then it would be for me as well and so far no call from Dave Brailsford. Stop slagging people off for something they haven’t done folks.

  • Francis

    No question he should be avoided. Brailsford needs to show real leadership by sticking with the principles he set himself. Cycling needs new leaders, such as Vaughters and Brailsford, who can talk the talk and walk the walk. So what if he shot himself in the foot with the orignal strong anti-doping stance, he needs to stick with it.

  • John Dee

    It’s all going to come undone. What I want to know is how can you be the supremo of a UCI Pro Team as well as Head of the Olympic Cycling Team. It’s like asking the CEO of Tesco to manage Marks & Spencer at the same time – something, somewhere will suffer. Get a grip UK Sport

  • Bryan

    This is a very very very bad idea. Scandals have followed this guy around wherever he’s been. You can’t even say Caisse D’Epargne are the cleanest of teams can you. They should avoid him for all his worth.

    That said, it is very difficult to do what they’re doing because cycling is tainted by past doping investigations. They need someone experieced as a DS but I’d prefer someone other than Stephens!!

  • Alex

    Brailsford very easily changes his “strong and ruthless principles” by the sounds of it. While watching the tactics of team sky at the tour de france, I really started wondering if he is the right man to lead this team.

  • Jeff

    With his past why would Sky touch him? They should AVOID him like the plague

  • Elizabeth O’Connor

    So Zero tolerance is only applicable to riders not staff, yeah coz the staff are never gonna suggest dope to riders r they…total U turn-so much for having faith in a GB team. This guy could be a British MP with such a class A U turn. But basically proves what ive always said, if u have true zero tolerance, u might as well not employ anyone because u will never truly know who is clean and who isnt unless they are totally Green and u aint gonna win a TDF/Giro/Vuelta with Green team and management. So he may as well get down off his high horse and take Dave Millar