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Skibby - Forstå Mig Ret -"Understand Me Correctly"
 
By Staff
Date: 12/24/2006
Skibby - Forstå Mig Ret -"Understand Me Correctly"
 

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 Team CSC).

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 pain.”

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 environment.

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 to doping.

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 that] myself.”

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 saying.

Fact Box: Jesper Skibby
2000: Memory Card - Jack & Jones.
1998-1999: Team Home - Jack & Jones.
1989-1997: TVM.
1988: Roland-Colnago.
1986-87: Roland.

Major Results:
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 doping]
1994: Tour of Holland, Overall Winner.
1994: Stage 4, Tirenno-Adriatico
1995: Stage 9, Vuelta a España.
20 Listed Victories on Trap-Friis

Book Title: Skibby Forstå Mig Ret
Available in: Danish
Price: 249,- DKr
 

 
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