Skibby - Forstå Mig Ret -"Understand Me Correctly"
Jesper Skibby an Autobiography, A Rider’s Confessions - A Book Review by Michael
Akinde. "Skibby’s book is not a book about doping. It is a book about the life
of a professional cyclist..."
By Michael Akinde
“I refused to be a fiasco. Anything that could
threaten that was rejected at my mental door. There was only space for cycling,
because it was in Cycling that I had proven that I could be a success. I left
everything else to other people. Only a long time afterwards, did I realize that
I thereby also gave away control over my life.”
Jesper Skibby is perhaps not the first name that non-Danes will think of, if
asked to name Danish riders of the past. Skibby was a part of the so-called
“Golden Generation” of Danish Cycling; a generation of Cyclists that included
such strong riders as Bjarne Riis, Rolf Sörensen, and Brian Holm; people who
today remain active in the sport. But while other among those riders may have
achieved greater results or have been more popular (however that is measured),
Skibby was perhaps the best-loved. He was the upright, lovable, funny one;
always ready with a quick rejoinder, a smile, and witty remarks no matter how
tough the day had been.
”Skibby - Forstå Mig Ret” (”Skibby - Understand Me Correctly”) is his
autobiography, as told to Danish Cycling journalist Brian Askvig. In it, Skibby
lifts the veil on life as he lived it in the professional peloton; a life, in
his case - built on silence, lies, and an unremitting pressure to perform. A
life, in many ways - as pitiable when viewed from the inside as it would have
appeared glorious viewed from the outside.
Skibby turned professional with the Belgian team Roland in 1986, not yet
twenty-two years of age. He debuted at the Tour de France the following year,
achieving a sensational third place in the time trial on stage 10, and fourth in
the time trial of stage 24. With the established stars of Roland-Skala (among
them aging German icon Dietrich Thurau) failing to live up to their billing,
Skibby (only twenty-three years old) finished as the team’s best placed rider
with a twenty-ninth place.
Skibby would never improve on that result; his best chance of doing so (in
1992, where Skibby’s strong time trial had landed him in third place halfway
through the race), was destroyed by the egotistical riding of a teammate on Le
Grand Ballon. But there would be other glorious moments to come. One such would
come in 1989, when Skibby (then riding for TVM) won the 19th stage in the Giro
d’Italia, and finished 14th overall. Coming from a lacklustre 1988 season, that
victory made Skibby one of the stars of the Cycling peloton.
It is worth noting, immediately, that Skibby’s book is not a book about
doping. It is a book about the life of a professional cyclist; perhaps even a
particularly troubled cyclist. A good deal of the book is filled with the kind
of “war stories” that one would expect from this kind of memoir; but in these
troubled times, it is the of course the sections on and around his doping abuse
that draws the most attention.
“You can complete a Tour de France without doping yourself, but you can’t do
it on milk and biscuits. You have to be refill the depots, and if I had not been
supported by someone like Joost, it would have been impossible, or
life-threatening, to ride the Grand Tours.”
Skibby describes a life in Cycling filled with medicine. Already from the
early days, Skibby explains, he got used to the needle. Recuperative drip,
vitamins, and various legal medical treatments all quickly became a part of his
life. Moving from Roland-Skala to TVM in 1989 brought Skibby under the
supervision of the then team-doctor of TVM, Joost de Maeseneer (now doctor at
In Skibby’s world, the doctor was god; anti-doping laws were too convoluted
for any non-specialist to keep track of, and after 200 kilometers of race no
rider is in a state to argue over treatments. The carefully prepared training
regimes and medical treatments were important for Skibby’s peace of mind; they
gave him the belief that he was doing everything possible to be the best that he
could be at his job – a theme which repeats itself again and again in the story
of his life. Skibby’s nature constantly drove him in one direction: to excel.
“When he finally knocked on my door and turned over to me the syringe, I felt
exactly like a small boy receiving a Christmas present. I knew exactly what I
needed to do. I pulled down my pants, pierced myself diagonally in the arse and
pressed the plunger to the bottom. I felt a slight sensation of pressure, but no
Ultimately, as Skibby describes, relying on careful planning of diets, legal
medical and natural supplements, and hard training was not enough. Throughout
his career he sacrificed everything for the sport. Skibby describes a life under
constant pressure; a never-ending race to live up to the expectations of his
Each victory and result that fulfilled those expectations simply built up
renewed expectations for the next victory: from his team director Cees Priem,
from the journalists, and from the public. In Skibby’s world, moving on to
doping became the logical next step in his never-ending pursuit to do everything
that he could to be the very best that he could.
In doing so, Skibby moved outside of his team. Initially dissuaded from
doping by de Maeseneer during his first years on the team (1989-1990), Skibby
eventually sought out another well-known Belgian doctor in the peloton (though
Skibby keeps his name anonymous) who explained to him the intricacies of doping
in 1991. Starting out with cortico-steroids, Skibby soon began to work with an
increasing list of the well-known products; growth hormones (for the first time
in 1992), EPO (for the first time in 1993), anabolic steroids and testosterone.
His hematocrit – naturally at 43 – was raised to a “stable” level of 47 for
the majority of his competitive career. The external doctor kept Skibby
“prepared”, and in return received 7.5% of Skibby’s winnings; an amount Skibby
estimates amounted to an average of 18000 Euro every year for most of his
career. In the context of the revelations of people like Manzano and Gaumont,
however, Skibby remains incredulous; his own abuse being far more modest and
simple than what the former alleged to be common on Kelme and Cofidis.
“Again it was the change in my mind that was remarkable. I quickly found out
that this was most important issue. Sometimes when I doped right before a race,
I would still find myself completely parked in the peloton. And other times my
contact could have put harmless saltwater in the syringe and I would ride like a
motorcycle… It was the effect of doping on my attitude that made the big
difference…. It was the knowledge that I had prepared optimally that made me
strong. And I was constantly on the lookout for information about new methods
that could maintain this feeling of being unconquerable, invincible, immortal.”
One of the most interesting chapters in Skibby’s tale is that of rule of
silence in the peloton. From the first time that he started to use forbidden
products to the last day of his career, Skibby tells, he always worked to
maintain his secret. No one, not his doctors, not his fellow team mates, not
even his wife (though Skibby is convinced that she knew – as she has later
confirmed) were allowed to share in his secret. When Cees Priem and Andrei
Mikhaelov (who had replaced Josst de Maeseneer years earlier) were indicted for
organized doping on TVM in 1998, Skibby claims he found himself as surprised as
the general public. Not because he believed it impossible, but rather because he
had never encountered it himself.
By that time, Skibby had moved on to Team Home-Jack & Jones where he was
reunited with Joost de Maeseneer. There his usage of products continued unabated
until a knee injury put an end to his career in 2000. Skibby worked as PR
functionary on the team for a year after his retirement, before moving on to
help set up the Danish talent Team PH, which has served as the springboard for
some of Denmarks greatest current talents. Burned out by the sport, disappointed
with “friends” who turned out as simply “colleagues”, Skibby finally left the
sport completely in 2002.
“'You great idiot!' Joost de Maeseneer looked at me
intensely and shook his head while sighing deeply. He looked resigned, but not
disbelieving. He knew I was telling the truth, and although he did not say it in
words, I could see that he was not surprised.”
Breaking the Silence
In the thirteen years of his career, Skibby “never tested positive”, as the
parlance goes; he would have lost nothing by maintaining the silence he had
already held to for one and a half decades. But after several years of
recuperation from the after-effects of a life far from normal, Skibby found
himself tired of the lies.
Throughout his career, Skibby had lived with his image and his self-worth
tied up in his performance on the bike. His basic experience must be familiar to
anyone with the competitive streak required to be a sportsperson at the elite
level; forever driven to be the best, competing with one’s compatriots on every
level possible. In Skibby’s case, that resulted in competition to have the
fastest cars, the flashiest watches (both common weaknesses in the professional
peloton), the most committed training and preparation, and in his case, finally
Perhaps the great irony of Skibby’s doping career is his continued reliance
on medication. In 1993 he kissed the asphalt life-threatingly at
Tirrenno-Adriatico, resulting in two fractures to the skull; the after-effects
of which he today suffers from epileptic seizures. Having voluntarily chosen a
life of medication for the early part of his life, he is today forced to one for
the rest of his life.
“If I could, in good conscience, lay the blame for
my doping abuse on someone else, I wouldn’t hesitate one second to do so. But
that would be yet another lie, because no one forced me to dope. I chose [to do
Skibby’s book has been criticized for not being more proactive against
doping. Skibby mentions no names in the book and makes no accusations of others,
only himself. Physically, he appears to have suffered no ill effects from
doping, and his results as a Cyclist remain enviable. He is unlikely to suffer
any consequences from the confession, having long since left the world of
Cycling. The mental scars Skibby suffered can perhaps easily be dismissed by
critics as being the burdens of a weak person; it is unlikely to instill much
fear of doping into the new generation of riders.
But the book has its justification in a number of ways. It shines a light on
a dark spot in Cycling; an area that even today many in Cycling fear to discuss.
It illuminates some of the thoughts and reasons that drive sportspeople to
doping. And not least (perhaps surprisingly to some), it gives testament to the
fact that great feats, and great results, can be achieved without doping.
Reactions to the Book:
Anti-Doping Denmark have subsequently publicly stated that there will be no
follow-up sanctions against Skibby, despite his admission of doping during his
career. The reasons are, of course, that such sanctions would be pointless (Skibby
no longer works in anything connected to Cycling), but also as they do not want
to scare off others who would be interested in "coming clean".
On December 18th, Ekstra Bladet reported two more
Danish ex-riders "admit doping".
Søren Lilholt - Junior World Champion
1983, professional from 1986-1992 (and the only Dane to have held the Green
point jersey in the Tour de France) - states that he was given medical products
on his team which have subsequently ended up on the list of doping products.
Lilholt has earlier in an interview indicated that he left Cycling when he did
(at the age of 27) because of the doping problems - basically, at the time when
EPO became commonplace, he quite simply found that he could no longer beat
riders whom he had been beating regularly all the way up through the 1980s.
Per Pedersen (also pro in the late 1980s
to the early 1990s - rode the Tour in 89,91-93 - last three for the Amaya team)
admits to usage of cortico-steroids (which was also what Skibby used during this
period) and comments that if he had continued his career, he would probably also
have gone on EPO in the mid-90s.
Skibby’s example has apparently had some positive
effect in terms of allowing some riders to clear their conscience, and may
perhaps in the long term prove of some value in this respect.
In the meantime, the UCI, in the person of its President Patrick McQuaid
remain highly critical of ex-riders who admit to doping. “I strongly oppose
ex-riders who make revelations in books that are solely written to earn money.
They have left the sport, and aren’t at all thinking of those who come after. If
they want to help the sport, they can turn up at my office and tell me what
happened and what is happening in the sport,” the UCI president is quoted as
Fact Box: Jesper Skibby
2000: Memory Card - Jack & Jones.
1998-1999: Team Home - Jack & Jones.
1989: Stage 19, Giro d'Italia.
1991: Stage 3, Vuelta a Espana.
1991: Stage 7, Vuelta a Espana.
1991: Stage 7, Tirenno-Adriatico
1993: Stage 5, Tour de France.
1993: Wincanton Classic (WC) [The actual first place, Volpi was disqualified for
1994: Tour of Holland, Overall Winner.
1994: Stage 4, Tirenno-Adriatico
1995: Stage 9, Vuelta a España.
20 Listed Victories on
Book Title: Skibby Forstå Mig Ret
Available in: Danish
Price: 249,- DKr