Cycling’s Winter of Discontent
The Reason why
A survey of 10 years of doping and innuendo: 1997 to 2006. Editorial -
“Now is the winter of our discontent”
- William Shakespeare, Richard III
By Michael Akinde
“Boldly they rode and well, Into the jaws of
Death, Into the mouth of Hell, Rode the six hundred”
- Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “The Charge of the Light Brigade”.
The credibility of Cycling, as a sport, has reached its nadir. Operation
Puerto and the debacle of this year’s Tour de France was the final spike in the
coffin to Cycling’s reputation. The panicked suspensions, the rhetoric of the
UCI, and the witch-hunt against those thought to be involved in the affair, are
the final flailing death throes of that reputation.
Through it all, however, there seems to be a lack of understanding of why
Cycling’s reputation has ended up where it is today. For years, a majority of
professional cyclists, team managers, and cycling officials have reacted with
outrage when faced with questions about doping; unable or unwilling to
understand why they too end up being suspect. But the sport did not reach the
point it is, in one afternoon on June 30; it has been on the path toward
harvesting the fruits of Operation Puerto for many years.
In this article, we survey some of the key elements that have worked to bring
the sport and its practitioners into disrepute during the past 10 years. It will
paint a bleak picture of the sport; a sport where few, if any, avoid being
tarred with the brush of doping suspicion. Note, however, that unless explicitly
stated, none of the names mentioned in the article can be assumed to have been
doping. It is not the purpose of the article to imply that any Cyclist in
particular has doped, but rather to illuminate the long tendrils that doping,
and the suspicion of doping, has taken into the world of Cycling.
The Sport of Doping Scandals
For some, the Festina affair of 1998 may appear as the cataclysmic event that
shook the Cycling world to its roots. This is an illusion; in fact, the first
death from doping was attested in 1967, kicking off the first committed UCI
anti-doping efforts , and a case almost
identical to the Festina affair hit the cycling world in 1997.
During May of that year, NAS (the Anti-Drug division of the Italian Police),
raided the Giro d’Italia and uncovered doping products in the possession of MG
Techno-Gym, employer of such high-profile stars as Michele Bartoli, Gilberto
Simoni, and a very young Paolo Bettini. In the room of one Luigi Sarti, soigneur
to the team, the police found a great number of forbidden products, among them
EPO and Synachten. The products, as the soigneur latter explained, were for the
“free use” of the riders on the team *3. More than 260 ampules of forbidden
products were seized in the possession of MG Technogym, but unlike the Festina
scandal a year later, no riders were arrested, and the team was allowed to
complete the Giro. But the scandal caused MG Technogym to pull their sponsorship
and several employees, including Sarti and the team director Giancarlo Ferretti,
were suspended for doping offences.
The 1998 Festina affair only dwarfed the MG Technogym episode due to the
increased persistence of the French gendarmes. The French had no compunctions
about dragging riders in for doping offenses, nor in carrying out repeated raids
against the Tour caravan, the likes of which we have not been seen before or
since. And the results were spectacular as two of the biggest teams in the sport
(Festina of course being one, the other being TVM) were caught red-handed with
doping products. The affair finally forced the cycling world to face up to the
problem of doping.
Sadly, however, the scandals have never stopped coming, and in truth every
year in the past decade has had its own major doping scandal.
1999: This year witnessed the
interception of a DHL shipment of Amphetamine addressed to Gianni Bugno of Mapei
(Bugno had ridden for the team in 1997-98 and was still attached to the team in
a technical capacity in 1999); an inglorious end to the Cycling career of a
great rider. The shipment had been sent to Bugno by another Mapei employee. It
also saw Tour de France champion Marco Pantani thrown out of the Giro d’Italia
while wearing the leader’s jersey due to a high hematocrit value.
2000: The “Perpignan” affair, in which
large amounts of “Pot Belge” were seized near the French border, began this
year. 25 athletes, doctors and pharmacists, including a former cycling team
doctor where accused of participating in a doping network that distributed EPO
and corticoids, among other products.
2001: This year saw the arrest of the
former team doctor of PDM, Wim de Sanders and the discovery of an extensive
doping network in Belgium (the so-called PDM affair). It also saw the arrest of
Dario Frigo in possession of drugs during the Giro d’Italia. Frigo,
coincidentally, Frigo was riding for Giancarlo Ferretti’s new squad: Fassa
2002: The year saw the arrest of Panaria
rider Antonio Varriale during the Giro d’Italia, as well as the suspension of an
AG2R rider during the Tour (due to him being involved in the Perpignan affair).
The biggest scandal of the year, however, was the “Rumsas affair”; the arrest of
the wife of Raimondas Rumsas, third in that year’s Tour de France, with a car
full of EPO, testosterone and growth hormones.
2003: The Museeuw-Landuyt affair again
turned the focus on Belgium, were yet another doping network was unraveled. It
also saw Rumsas test positive for EPO.
2004: The so-called “Cofidis affair”
almost closed down Cofidis and results in World Time Trial champion David Millar
being stripped of his title. Jesus Manzano testifies to extensive doping on the
Kelme team. The Italian police, not willing to be outdone, carried out raids in
29 Italian provinces uncovering large stockpiles of doping products in Operation
“Oil for Drugs” (more than 138 cases investigating cyclists for doping were
opened although no charges have as yet been produced from the case; still
ongoing). For an encore, Olympic Time Trial champion Tyler Hamilton tested
positive at the Vuelta a Espana, along with team mate (and second-placed in the
Vuelta), Santiago Perez.
2005: The “Cahors” affair opens with
initially 7 people arrested (most notably former TVM rider Laurent Roux) and 83
doses of Pot Belge seized. The case cracked open an extensive French doping
ring, with the subsequent conviction of no less than 23 people. Toward the end
of the year, another unusually high-profile doping positive rocked Cycling; the
Vuelta a Espana victor Roberto Heras tested positive for EPO.
2006: Presumably, the reader has no need
to be reminded of Operation Puerto (which stripped the Tour de France of four of
the top five seeded riders of the 2005 Tour), nor of the now disputed charges of
a positive test for Testosterone of the Tour de France winner Floyd Landis.
We can conclude, very simply, that the initiatives of the Cycling world have
done nothing to lessen the number or reduce the severity of doping scandals in
cycling over the past decade. In fact, if history is any guide, the one thing we
can be sure of regarding doping is this: 2007 will bring us fresh new doping
The Sport of Questionable Ethics
In recent years, there has been a lot of talk about ethics in the
sport. In particular, this has been a major feature of the negotiations around
the establishment of the ProTour. It often seems, however, that Cycling is only
interested in talking about ethics when the spotlight of the press is on the
The Festina affair was the end of the careers of Voet, Roussel, and many
other Festina personnel, but the MG Technogym case was much kinder on its
protagonists. Luigi Sarti was soon back to work at Cantina Tollo; his two
accomplices in the doping ring, another soigneur and a mechanic, were also soon
back at work. The mechanic went to work at Amica-Chips; in 1999 investigators
identified EPO in the waste left behind by the team. The soigneur went on to
work for the Mapei team of Patrick Lefevre. Recall the 1999 case against Gianni
Bugno? The sender on the package of amphetamines was none other than this same
soigneur, Tiziano Morrassut.
Cycling history of the past decade abounds with similar examples and
downright strange decisions. Consider the strange case of Nuno Ribeiro, fired
from Liberty Seguros in 2005 for a too high hematocrit value, but subsequently
re-employed on its sister team LA-Liberty. Kelme was excluded from the Tour in
2004 based on the accusations of Manzano but Cofidis, center of an even greater
doping scandal, faced no such obstruction. Phonak was initially denied access to
the ProTour based on the ethical charter, but Ferretti’s Fassa Bortolo saw
admission without any questioning, despite Ferretti’s history of systematic
doping on MG Technogym and multiple doping cases on Fassa Bortolo.
In 1998, Dr. Nicolas Torrados, team doctor of ONCE, was arrested in
possession of forbidden substances, and the next year Alex Zülle testified that
ONCE practised systematic doping on a scale similar to Festina. Despite this, it
was none other than ONCE team manager Manolo Saiz that was chosen as the
chairperson of the Association of Professional Cycling Teams (AIGCP). In spite
of multiple doping-related irregularities on his team throughout 2004-2005, it
took a long time before he was replaced as the president of AIGCP. His
replacement as chairperson is Quick-Step manager Patrick Lefevre. Incredibly, it
seems the AIGCP does not consider it a problem to have their spokesperson
talking to the public about ethics and the fight against doping, while his own
team employs as Publics Relations spokesperson a former rider who is still
serving out a suspension for doping.
Granted, the legacy of the past is flattering to few within the Cycling
world; directors, masseurs, riders, agents, and even within the governing bodies
of the sport; everywhere one finds the presence of people who have either been
involved with or accused of doping. Without a doubt, it is important for Cycling
that the past be left in the past, but looking to the future without taking
history into account invites the asking of embarrassing questions, and puts
great question marks on the credibility of the sport.
Actions speak louder than words, and the actions of the Cycling community do
not match the unilateral anti-doping attitude that the Cycling world claims to
pursue. In a world where political life is increasingly dominated by spin
doctors, it seems perverse to encourage the study of public relations; yet some
of the public relations blunders of Cycling with respect to doping are so
elementary, and so gross, that one is tempted to do so.
The Sport of Misguided Loyalty
If the “ethics” of Cycling are questionable, the reaction – or more
frequently lack of it – from riders when faced with news of their competition
doping is more so. Given the small size of the cycling community, it may be
understandable that riders do not wish to denounce what may have been (and will
again) be close colleagues. Regardless of the reason, however, silence will
always be interpreted as complicity.
Normal people become angry when they realize they have been cheated. That
cyclists rarely express anger when faced with evidence of doping, speaks volumes
about the attitude that still seems to rule the peloton with respect to the act.
It is, perhaps, inevitable that misunderstandings arise when people of different
cultures interact (a person that might appear angry and agitated to a Russian,
might not seem so to a Frenchman), but the general impression left on the public
seems to be that cyclists don’t care whether their competition was doped. The
conclusion drawn by the public from that impression should be obvious.
The impression of the public is only strengthened by the reaction –
frequently angry – that the sport reserves for riders who speak out about
doping, and break the so-called “omerta” (code of silence). Manzano, Gaumont,
and Simeoni are the most recent examples; each in their turn was reviled by
large numbers of their fellow riders for speaking out; and each in turn has had
their words subsequently upheld by subsequent events.
Actions speak louder than words and the actions of the cycling world speak
more of collective guilt, than of innocence. Loyalty to one’s fellows is both
understandable and laudable; if the cycling world wishes to regain credibility,
however, it is needful for it to comprehend that loyalty towards doping is not.
As in all walks of life, many dangers threaten the whistle-blower; first and
foremost threats against that rider’s career. As Operation Puerto clearly
demonstrated, Cyclists as a group have almost no rights as employees, and little
recourse when they get caught up in the power struggles of the organizations.
Until the sport has mechanisms in place to encourage Cyclists and to make it
viable for them to participate actively in the fight against doping, the current
unhealthy system will continue, with the predictable consequences in terms of
the credibility of the Sport.
The Sport of the Doping Suspect
The past decades have quite literally turned Cycling into the sport of the
Cyclists protest that it is possible to win even the great races and
be clean; it is frightening however to consider how many of the sports champions
have ended up having their career blackened by doping accusations. For the
purposes of this article, we will consider as doping accusation only either a
positive test or an open admittance of doping or an investigation into alleged
doping by that rider by the authorities; essentially the same criteria used,
however unfair, to exclude riders from the Tour this year. It is also worth
noting that in many of these cases (all those were there exist no positive tests
or admissions), no charges were ever leveled by the UCI/National anti-doping
authorities, usually due to a lack of evidence.
Let us consider, first, the podiums of the Grand Tours. Of the fourteen
riders to have stood on the Tour de France podium over the past 10 years
(1997-2006) all but four have now faced serious doping accusations
. For the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta Espana,
the numbers are similar; four of eighteen  and
six of twenty-one  respectively. In short, two
out of every three riders who get to stand on a Grand Tour podium has had to
defend themselves against public charges of doping or doping-related
Looking only at the winner’s step, the statistics for Grand Tour riders
become even more depressing. For the past ten years, there hasn’t been a single
winner of the Tour de France who hasn’t been the target of doping
investigations. In the Giro d’Italia, only one winner has escaped being named in
a doping investigation and in the Vuelta a Espana, only two. The statistics are
slightly better for “Classics” riders; though even here the numbers are far from
flattering. Looking at the list of winners for the monuments of Cycling, one
finds thirteen of thirty-one riders having been named in some form of doping
connection ; more than one in three.
Obviously, it is possible to win “clean”. But it is perhaps not so strange
that many people equate “winning” with “doping” in Cycling when we look at such
statistics. Even if the press reports are frequently one-sided, filled with
unsubstantiated rumours reported as facts (several of the incident during
Operation Puerto are perfect examples of how the press will print “facts” about
doping, no matter how thin the supporting evidence), and driven by
sensationalism, the root of the problem is still the responsibility of the
Cycling world itself.
Even disregarding rumours in the press (as has been done here), far too many
of the sport’s Champions have been involved in investigations related to doping.
Even if this may be no fault of the rider, the damage done to the sport remains.
“No smoke without a fire” is a thousand year old proverb that is ingrained into
the very fabric of human society; with so much smoke, it is inevitable that
public perception will travel in the direction it has gone today.
Cyclists continue to affirm that winning “clean”
is possible. No doubt it is. Winning with a clean reputation, on the other hand,
appears to be a significantly harder proposition.
The Sport of the Doctors
Cycling as a sport is inextricably linked with doctors. In a sport
which demands extreme performance from its practitioners, good doctors and the
right training can be of huge importance. As the sport practitioners body
balances on a knife-edge between optimal performance and unhealthy
overspecialization, the sports physician plays an important part in maintaining
the balance. But the sports physician himself has to balance on the knife-edge,
for in elite sports – and particularly in Cycling – suspicion is never far away.
Unfortunately, cause for suspicion is not unfounded.
“Clean cycling is an illusion”, Francesco Moser commented in L’Equipe in
1999, at the same time admitting to having used blood doping when he broke the
hour record in 1984 shortly before blood doping became illegal. His coach at the
time was Francesco Conconi, former chief of Bio-Medicine at Ferrarra university.
Prof. Conconi has had an extraordinary career. On August 14, 1980, Prof.
Conconi submitted a proposal to CONI (the Italian Olympic Committee), proposing
that select Italian athletes be “assisted” by the staff of the university to
improve their performances. He noted the sports that would benefit from such
assistance as cycling, canoeing, rowing, long-distance skiing, speed skating,
swimming, and wrestling. CONI accepted the offer.
According to the Head of Research of CONI, Sandro Donati (then an athletics
coach for Italy and approached to participate in the programme), this assistance
was basically blood doping. With his research funded by CONI (more than 2
million Euro over the years ), Conconi was able
to achieve spectacular results with the athletes working with him, culminating
at the 1992 and 1994 Winter Olympics where Italy sensationally emerged as a
powerhouse in long-distance skiing (with a total harvest of 34 medals). It would
later be documented that many of these athletes registered hematocrit values of
greater than 50.0%; a strong indication of EPO use and measurements that today
would have had them suspended from competition.
By the early 1990s, Cycling was one of the most professionally organized
sports and this professionalism offered a useful venue of approach for doctors
with such spectacular credentials. Prof. Conconi and his staff went to work on
Gewiss Ballan; a team which today is almost synonymous with doping (not least
because of abnormal hematocrit values recorded for the riders on the team in the
period 1994-1995). Two of Conconi’s assistants, a Dr. Michele Ferrari and Dr.
Ilario Casoni, were responsible for the team. In addition to the teams connected
to the Institute, a large number of the stars of the 1990s were clients of the
doctor’s at the institute.
As Sandro Donati experienced, Prof. Conconi had extremely influential
connections. Among them was the then President of IOC’s medical committee,
Alexandre de Merode, who appointed Conconi as a member of the medical committee
and gave him funds to work on a test to detect the use of EPO; a decision that
set back anti-doping efforts several years. In gratitude, Conconi had the
University of Ferrara confer an honorary degree on his patron. Another
influential patron was the President of CONI itself, Dr. Pescante, who managed
for two years to suppress a report by Donati that strongly indicted Conconi and
doping in cycling.
By 1999, however, Conconi’s patrons could no longer protect him, and criminal
proceedings were started against Conconi and his assistants. Extensive documents
were confiscated, and formed the basis for the Ferrara case. In 2003, however,
the investigating judge had to dismiss due to the statute of limitations
. During the time Conconi operated, doping was not a crime, and the
relevant evidence that could have convicted him for sporting fraud was simply
too old to be usable in the Italian court of law. Conconi walked away a free
man; but the evidence against him was such that the judge took the unprecedented
step of judging Conconi, and his two colleagues Ilario Casoni and Giovanni
Grazzi, “morally guilty” of the promotion of doping in sports.
Conconi’s shadow (and that of the Ferrara institute)
over cycling was,
and continues to be – extensive.
The most famous of Conconi’s assistants is without a doubt Dr.
Michele Ferrari. His list of clients reads like an all-star cast of the sport of
Cycling ; most notably, of course, seven-time
Tour winner Lance Armstrong, but also including top sprinters, hour-record
holder and Giro and Vuelta winners. Among the evidence in the Ferrara case,
there were reported papers with prescriptions by Ferrarri for DHEA, IGF1, and
Eritogren (EPO); and when the separate case filed against him went to trial in
2004 (Ferrari had split from Conconi in the later 1990s), the verdict returned
against him was guilty on two counts (“sporting fraud” and “abuse of medical
license to purchase doping products”). Further legal battles led to the judgment
being overturned this year. Ferrari, like his one-time mentor Conconi, was able
to fall back on the statute of limitations and escape a conviction due to the
slow-moving Italian anti-doping efforts.
Dr. Carlos Santuccione is another colleague of Conconi and Ferrari from
Ferrara institute. Allegedly known as “Ali the Chemist”, Santuccione was
suspended from acting as a physician from 1995-2000 by CONI. Despite this, he
was a much sought after person among several high-profile stars of the sport
 . His name appeared in the Ferrara case; and
he was subject to additional investigation in 2001. In 2004, the large scale
operation “Oil for Drugs” struck in 29 Italian provinces against a doping
network that Santuccione is suspected to have headed. Huge amounts of doping
products: testosterone, anabolic steroids, EPO, Aranesp, blood transfusion
equipment, et al., were seized, and investigations were opened against 138
athletes (15 of them professional). The case led to further arrests, among them
a member of the Italian Cycling federation. Today, Santuccione’s license is
suspended, although most of the riders who were his clients remain active while
the investigations grind on.
Dr. Georges Mouton was Belgium’s most famous
Sports Physician, even belonging for a little while to the Tour de France
society. In 2000, Danish Cyclist Brian Dalgaard admitted on TV to having been
supplied with doping by Dr. Mouton , and the doctor has been under
near-continuous investigation since then. In October 2004, the Belgian press
reported that Mouton is suspected to have in his charge at least 40 doping
“dossiers” (among them a dozen German professional cyclists)
 . Surprisingly, even here we find a connection
to the Ferrara institute; Dr. Mouton allegedly worked together with Dr. Ferrari
as sports physician for Frank Vandebroucke. Upon the exposure of Dr. Fuentes in
Operation Puerto, Dr. Mouton went public to speak out in his support: "Doping is
not inherently bad in the way specified. The demands on the riders are bad. I
only help my patients to deal with those demands, as I would help a manager. I
find it immoral that I cannot treat a sportsman the same as any other patient."
Dr. Eufamenio Fuentes presumably needs no introduction. At the center of the
greatest scandal yet seen in the sport, no less than 58 sportsmen from Cycling
(and supposedly even greater numbers from other sports) have been suspected of
working with him, though as the waters muddy, it seems as if (as often before) a
few scapegoats will be made to bear the responsibility of the majority. It is
the blood transfusions provided by Fuentes that have garnered the most
attention, but the operation uncovered in Spain allegedly also involves sale and
distribution of doping products over the internet. And clues from Operation
Puerto, it seems, may lead law enforcement on to similar doping networks in
Belgium, Germany and Italy.
The Ferrara Institute had one more notable scion that we have yet to mention:
Dr. Luigi Cecchini. Cecchini was placed under suspicion in the Ferrara case, as
prescriptions for anabolic steroids, hormones and other doping products issued
by Cecchini were allegedly found in the Bologna pharmacy central to the case. No
charges were raised; however, as the public prosecutor felt there was too little
evidence to secure a guilty verdict by Italian law. Cecchini’s name has again
appeared in Operation Puerto, as he is suspected of being an accomplice of
Fuentes; an accusation that has made many of his clients announce
 that they will no longer work with the doctor.
Unlike the other doctors, Cecchini has never been caught in wrong-doing outside
of the Ferrara institute. However, his clients share in two conditions that
cause the public to group Cecchini together with his more notorious colleagues.
First, the majority of the cyclists who use these sport physicians are
notoriously shy of revealing their connection to the doctors. This in itself is
something that tends to arouse the suspicion of the public against these
athletes; obviously, if there is no reason for suspicion, should there be any
grounds for secrecy? Second, is a curious fact: mention any Champion of the
sport for the past 10 years, and at least 9 out of 10 times you will find that
he has been a client of one of the five men listed above.
When one factors in the remarkable past of these doctors, the connection
between Champion and Doctor inevitably leads to suspicion in the public. And
this is a cycle that feeds on itself; the more notorious the doctor becomes, the
more reluctant the cyclist is of being public about his relationship. And the
more reluctant the athletes become, the more suspicious the public becomes.
The shadow of the Ferrara Institute looms large over the sport. Given the
knowledge that the public views all of these men with extreme suspicion for
their connection to doping in the past, it is hard to understand that any
cyclist at all worried about his reputation would want to be connected to any of
them. More than anyone else, the doctors in Cycling have been the focus of
doping cases; for this reason as well, the reputation of a Cyclist gets
associated with the doctors he works with.
The Sport of Doping Controls
Critics of Cycling have often commented that the regime of doping
controls in the sport is insufficient; the protagonists of the Sport, on the
other hand, rebut these charges by pointing out that no other sport has such a
comprehensive anti-doping program as Cycling.
The evidence does seem to indicate that Cycling has the best anti-doping
program of all sports. A recent WADA report that showed how Cycling was the
sport with the most positive test (proportionate to the number of tests) caused
a great deal of furor this summer; it however also conclusively shows that
Cycling is the sport that performs the greatest number of doping tests of any
sport, by a wide margin.
Strong as the anti-doping program is, however, it should be clear that it is
ineffective at containing doping. Law enforcement agencies continue to throw up
indications of widespread doping networks operating in the sport, but only a
fraction of the riders exposed through such investigations are ever caught in
the doping controls. The case of David Millar is one example of doping that went
on for several years with no one the wiser. The cases that are coming out of
Operation Puerto may perhaps bring to light many more. Many anti-doping experts
have pointed out the challenges facing the doping testers; the essence of which
is that doping even with products that can be detected (such as EPO) is
perfectly possible, as long as the athlete knows what he is doing. And then, of
course, there are the doping methods that can not be detected at all.
A recent report by M. Zorzoli et al.  is
quite interesting; in it, Zorzoli reports on the blood values of an anonymous
rider strongly suspected of doping. Despite being certain that the rider is
doping (due to the blood values registered for the cyclist), it takes the
anti-doping authorities more than a year of targeted testing before they are
able to finally clinch a positive test for the cyclist. One suspects that had
the rider been careful, or lucky, enough, he might never have been caught.
It does appear that in today’s world of Cycling, it effectively takes human
error by either the rider or his accomplices, for a rider to test positive for
doping. Somewhat cynically, one might wonder: when some riders caught positive
in a doping test argue that the tests are fallible, are they speaking from
personal experience having cheated those same tests in the past?
It is often argued, based on the volume and results of the doping tests in
Cycling, that doping is much less of a problem than is claimed by the press.
This is probably true, insofar as that it is often claimed that everyone dopes.
Nevertheless, there is little question that the doping problem is serious; far
more serious than the organizations in Cycling seem willing to admit. Operation
Puerto made that blindingly obvious, but Zorzoli’s paper from 2005 ought to
already have been an eye-opener.
In it, Zorzoli details statistics from blood tests performed by the UCI in
the period from 2001-2004. While the average Hematocrit of riders falls from
2001 to 2002 (presumably a result of the introduction of the EPO test), it soon
recovers to rise in 2003 and 2004 past the 2001 average. Clearly, the effect of
EPO testing has been very short-lived, with hematocrit rising again as new ways
to avoid positive tests (e.g., micro-doses, etc) were discovered.
More alarming, however is the reticulocyte results detailed by Zorzoli in the
paper. A low reticulocyte count is a strong indicator that the athlete is either
very, very sick – or that some form of blood doping (most likely blood
transfusions) has taken place, particularly if the hematocrit has also
increased. Where 2002 has 1 sample out of 2351 taken with an extraordinarily
abnormal reticulocyte count (<0.2% reticulocytes), 2003 has 41 samples out of
2073 showing similar abnormal results. Looking at the sample set, the total
number of low reticolucyte results indication suspicious activity rise from from
2.1% in 2001 to 9.5% in 2004. In short, it seems likely that the handful of
blood transfusion cases that we have witnessed over the past four years are only
the tip of the iceberg, with a significant percentage of riders possibly making
use of blood transfusions. Not an idle suspicion, given that – like EPO in the
90s – autologous blood transfusions cannot be detected.
When we consider as well that networks such as the one uncovered in Operation
“Oil for Drugs” (2004), Operation Cahors (2005), and Operation Puerto (2006) all
also carried out a brisk trade in more “traditional” doping products such as
anabolic steroids, growth hormones, EPO, etc., it is clear that the problem of
doping is not just limited to a small number of athletes.
The market for illegal substances – among amateurs and professionals alike –
is huge and lucrative, and while it exists, there will be suppliers trying to
supply it. In France, reputed for its tough anti-doping stance, the number of
incidents involving the illegal trafficking of anabolic and doping substances
(for sports in general and not just Cycling) more than doubled between 2002 and
2003 . The same pattern has been observed in
many other European countries. Is it credible that Cycling; alone of all sports,
is reducing its doping use in a time when doping as a whole is on the rise?
One of the revelations from Operation “Oil for Drugs” was a diary, belonging
to a professional Italian rider. The rider consumed, in one season (2001),
218,000 units of EPO, in addition to significant amounts of anabolical steroids,
Gh (growth hormone), IGF3, and many other products. Most of the doping consisted
of micro-doses; allowing the rider to fly under the radar of doping tests (in
one case, the rider apparently dosed with 2000 units of EPO one day, yet passed
the pre-competition doping test the next day without trouble). Despite this
massive doping intake, the rider in question did not win a single victory during
the season; he was merely a domestique on his team (which was one of minnow
teams in the sport).
When even “insignificant” riders consume such large amounts of doping
products it makes a normal persons head spin; when doping controls are more an
annoyance than a hindrance; when police investigations continue to uncover huge
doping distribution networks flourishing within the cycling world; is it any
wonder that the public becomes cynical about its stars?
A Sport in Disrepute
There are many reasons why the sport of Cycling has been brought into disrepute,
above and beyond the ones listed above. The above, however, are some of those
that appear again and again when fans and critics of the sport come to discuss
the ill repute of the sport.
It is fashionable to blame the press for witch-hunts, one-sided reporting and
generalizing statements. Coverage of Cycling in the main-stream press could be
more balanced, true; but ultimately the responsibility for the ill-repute of
Cycling in the public falls squarely on the cycling world itself.
Despite a decade of anti-doping efforts since doping
in Cycling became a public issue, outwardly it appears to the public as if
little has changed, other than the cunning with which doping is hidden. If the
public’s perception is to change, then each of the problems above will have to
be addressed. To do so will require the combined efforts of all the protagonists
of the Cycling world; the riders, the teams, the race organizers, and the
organizations that govern cycling.
It will require an end to the internal squabbling
and the guilt-placement game; activities that divert resources away from the
critical efforts that will be required to clean up the sport.
Cycling’s Winter of Discontent Part 2
Giorgio Squinzi: Mapei's anti-doping crusader
Cycling: Can we
handle the truth? We are our own worst enemy
- ZDF and ARD in Germany, DR in Denmark.
- The tragic death of Tom Simpson on Mont Ventoux.
- O. S. Andersen, N. C. Jung, “Tavshedens Pris”, 1999. The initial
explanation by Ferreti was significantly more exotic; he testified that all of
the doping products were for his own private use, “to improve his sexual
performances”, according to the police reports from the hearings.
- The riders who have graced the Tour podium from 1997 to 2006 are Jan
Ullrich (accused in Operation Puerto), Richard Virenque (convicted of doping
in the Festina affair), Marco Pantani (failed hematocrit test in 1999), Bobby
Julich, Lance Armstrong (target of multiple failed doping investigations),
Alex Zülle (admitted EPO use), Fernando Escartin (investigated in case against
Conconi), Joseba Beloki (accused in Operation Puerto), Raimondas Rumsas
(positive EPO test), Alexandre Vinokorouv, Andreas Klöden, Ivan Basso (accused
in Operation Puerto), Floyd Landis (positive Testoterone test), and Oscar
- The riders on the Giro podium for the past 10 years are Ivan Gotti (failed
hematocrit test 1998), Pavel Tonkov (failed hematocrit test 1999), Giuseppe
Guerini, Marco Pantani (failed hematocrit test 1999), Paolo Savoldelli
(investigated in the case against Ferrari), Gilberto Simoni (positive test
2002), Stefano Garzelli (positive test 2002), Francesco Casagrande (positive
for testosterone 1994), Abraham Olano (positive test 1994), Unai Osa (accused
in Operation Puerto), Tyler Hamilton (positive for blood transfusion 2004),
Pietro Caucchioli, Yaroslav Popovych, Damiano Cunego, Serguei Gonchar
(investigated in the so-called San Remo doping probe 2001), Jose Rujano
Guillen (positive test 2003), Ivan Basso (accused in Operation Puerto), and
Jose Gutierrez Cataluna (accused in Operation Puerto).
- The riders on the Vuelta podium since 1997: Alex Zülle (admitted EPO use),
Fernando Escartin (investigated in the case against Conconi), Laurent Dufaux
(positive EPO test), Abraham Olano (positive test 1994), Jose Maria Jiminez
(positive caffeine test 1994), Jan Ullrich (accused in Operation Puerto), Igor
Gonzalez de Galdeano (positive Salbutamol 2002), Roberto Heras (positive EPO
2005), Angel Casero (positive for Nandrolon 1996), Pavel Tonkov (failed
hematocrite test 1999), Oscar Sevilla (failed caffeine test 2000), Levi
Leipheimer, Aitor Gonzalez (positive test 2005), Isidro Nozal (failed
hematocrit 2004), Alejandro Valverde, Santiago Perez (positive for blood
transfusion 2004), Francisco Mancebo (accused in Operation Puerto), Dennis
Menchov, Carlos Sastre, Alexandre Vinokorouv, and Andrey Kaschechkin.
- In the winner’s circle of the monuments of Cycling, we find Erik Zabel
(positive for Cortisone 1994), Andrei Tchmil, Mario Cipollini (investigated in
case against Ferrari), Paolo Bettini (investigated in the MG Technogym case),
Oscar Freire, Alessandro Petacchi, Filippo Pozzato, Rolf Sörensen
(investigated in case against Conconi), Johan Museeuw (convicted in Landuyt
affair), Peter Van Petegem, Gianluca Bortolami (positive for EPO 1998), Andrea
Tafi, Steffen Wesemann, Tom Boonen, Frederic Guesdon, Franco Ballerini
(positive for Ephidrine 1996), Servais Knaven, Magnus Backstedt, Fabian
Cancellara, Michele Bartoli, Frank Vandenbroucke (EPO, positive tests), Oscar
Camenzind (positive for EPO 2004), Tyler Hamilton (positive for blood
transfusion 2004), Davide Rebellin (investigated in the so-called San Remo
doping probe 2001), Alexandre Vinokorouv, Alejandro Valverde, Laurent Jalabert,
Mirko Celestino, Raimondas Rumsas (positive EPO), Danilo di Luca (investigated
in Oil for Drugs) and, Damiano Cunego.
- O. S. Andersen, N. C. Jung, “Danskerlaegen”, 2000.
- It is worth noting, at this point, that the Italian sport’s federations
were not alone in the potential abuse of EPO. From statements given by sports
officials, it is clear that many national sports associations were approached
by medicinal companies during the early 1990s, in attempts to institute
organized EPO programs.
- The statute of limitations is a statute in a common law legal system that
sets forth the maximum period of time, after certain events, that legal
proceedings based on those events may be initiated. In Italy, this has now
resulted in acquittal for sporting fraud in several notorious cases.
- According to papers from the Ferrara case (reported by Andersen and Jung),
Ferrari’s list of client in the 90s included Rominger, Jalabert, Gotti, Zülle,
A. Mercx, Cippolini, Savoldelli, Olano, Escartin, Tonkov, Chiappucci, Pantani,
and Vandenbroucke. Lance Armstrong admitted to being a client of Ferrari in
2001 and officially terminated the relationship in 2004; three times World
Time Trial Champion Michael Rogers as well as T-Mobile teammate Patrick
Sinkewitz admitted to being a client during the 2006 Tour. Despite US Postal
officially breaking off relations with Ferrari in 2004, at least one rider of
the Discovery team was observed still working with Ferrari in early 2006.
- The most notable of Santuccione’s clients is 2005 ProTour champion Danilo
di Luca; others include Rebellin, Celestino, Bennati, Commesso, and Mazzoleni.
S. Andersen, N. C. Jung, “Danskerlaegen”, 2000.
- Among the clients cited for Mouton in the 2000 TV documentary
“Danskerlaegen” were Abdoujabarov, Dierckxens, and Streel (note however, that
this does not necessarily imply that they are among the doping dossiers).
- TAZ, 18.7.2006, Daily Mirror 19.7.2006
- Among the riders who have been put in connection with Cecchini are:
Hamilton, Basso, Cancellara, T. Dekker, Ullrich, Cunego, Petacchi, Casagrande,
Bartoli, Cipollini, Tafi, P. Richard, R. Soerensen, G. Bugno and B. Riis. In
August 2006, T-Mobile rider L. Gerdemann announced the end of his relationship
- M. Zorzoli ”Blood monitoring in an anti-doping setting”. In W. Schänzer,
H. Geyer, A. Gotzmann, U. Mareck (eds.) Recent advances in doping analysis
(13). Sport und Buch Strauss, Köln (2005), pages 255-264.
- European Union Organised Crime Situation Report, 2004.