Cycling Doping Scandals

Doping is almost as old as professional cycling itself. When Henri Desgrange had the brain wave of instituting a tour around France, he wanted to create an event which required ‘superhuman effort’. Those intrepid cyclists who entered early editions had to pay a 5 Franc entrance fee and were also told they must supply their own dope – which in those days included alcohol, cocaine and chlorofoam.

The Tour did not take a completely blind eye to cheating, in 1906 3 riders were expelled for taking a train. Compared to the skull dugdery of poisoning rivals, and throwing nails on the road surface, dope taking hardly seemed a priority. The early organisers were most keen to encourage the superhuman feats which helped sell papers. It is perhaps from this perspective that we can better understand why doping became such an intrinsic part of cycling’s culture.

List of Important Doping Scandals

1924, Henri and Charles Pélissier admitted the use of Strychnine, cocaine, chloroform, aspirin, “horse ointment” and others drugs to keep going. The story was published in ‘Le Petit Parisien’ under the ‘The Convicts of the Road’. It led to no doping regulation though.

1949 – Fausto Coppi admitted using ‘’la Bomba’ – amphetamines during races. Coppi later joked that he only ever took dope when necessary – which was nearly always.

1955 Jean Malléjac of France collapsed on Mont Ventoux during the 1955 Tour de France. Drug use was widely suspected, though he pleaded his innocence from drug taking.

1959 Charles Gaul. The great climber was implicated when French customs found pills destined from him.

1967 – Tom Simpson. On July 13, 1967, British cyclist Tom Simpson died climbing Mont Ventoux. His death was attributed to heat stroke, exacerbated by dehydration and the use of amphetamines (amphetamine pills were found in his back pocket) More than any other event, this high profile death led to the creation of first meaningful dope tests.

1967 – Jacques Anquetil. After breaking the world hour record. Anquetil refused to take a drugs test ( he said he refused because of the indignity of urinating in a tent in front of spectators. However, Anquetil never hid the fact he took dope. In a 1965 TV interview, Jaques Anequetil said: “Leave me in peace; everybody takes dope.”
In an interview with a French minister Anquetil openly declared it was foolish to think you could ride Paris Bordeaux on water alone.

1969 – Eddy Merckx failed a dope test for Reactivin during 1969 Giro. Merckx always protested his innocence and pointed to the irregularities in the dope testing procedure. It has been claimed this was linked to a Mafia conspiracy.

1975 – Bernard Thevenet Bernard Thévenet of France won the Tour de France in 1975 and 1977. In 1982, after retiring from pro cycling, he admitted (like many others at the time) to being drugged with cortisone. He said “The experience ruined my health”.

1978 Michel Pollentier Pollentier of Belgium was caught trying to cheat the drugs control after victory at L’Alpe d’Huez. He was found using someone else’s urine in a rubber bulb. He was ejected from the Tour, although ironically his own urine tested negative. Paul Kimmage would later say this kind of cheating dope controls was quite common during this period. – Mostly it went undetected.

1982 Angel Arroyo of Spain, tested positive for stimulant Methylphenidate (Ritalin) on stage 17 of the 1982 Vuelta a España. He would have won the tour. For his postive dope test, he was given a 10 minute penalty, leaving him 13th rather than 1st.

1984 Francesco Moser – World Hour Record. Admitted he used blood doping to prepare for event. He was helped by doctor Francesco Conconi. At the time blood doping was not illegal, but is now.

1987 Stephen Roche An official Italian investigation into the Carrera team found that Roche was administered EPO (with the help of Francesco Conconi) in 1993, his last year in the peloton. It is alleged that Roche took EPO earlier in his earlier career as well. At one point Roche was threatening to sue Kimmage for his book – Rough Ride which expressed that doping was widespread.

1988 – Pedro Delgado Tested positive for probenecid at the 1988 Tour de France. This was banned by IOC but not UCI. It is a masking agent for steroid use. Delgado went on to win the Tour de France and was declared a hero in his home country.

1989 – Laurent Fignon tested positive for amphetamines at the Grand Prix de la Liberation in Eindhoven. Later admitted ‘”In those days everyone was doing it,” Has suggested his cancer may have been related to the doping products he took.

1995 Macro Pantani – gave a haemocrit reading of 60.1% during Milan Turin race- 20 points higher than natural level.

1997 Djamolidine Abdoujaparov from Uzbekistan became the first rider to be disqualified from the 1997 Tour de France for taking banned substances after testing positive for Bromatan.

1998 – Festina Affair Willy Voet a seigneur from the Festina squad was stopped at the border with a car full of doping products. Eventually it emerged that there was systematic doping within the team. Voet later wrote a book – Breaking the Chain.

1999 Marco Pantani ejected from Giro because haemocrit reading too high. He was later to die from cocaine overdose in 2004

2001 Giro Scandal. The race was interrupted by police raids which led to many illegal drugs being found in riders rooms. This included Dario Frigo who was a leading contender for general classification.

2002 Raimondas Rumsas who finished 3rd in the Tour de France  was given a four-month suspended prison sentence in January 2006. Drugs were found in the car of his wife. He tried to claim they were for his mother in law.

2002 Frank Vandenbroucke was arrested after police found ampheteamines in his car.

2003 Phillip Gaumont admitted EPO use during 2003 tour. In 2005 he wrote a book, Prisonnier du dopage (“Prisoner of doping”) describing doping methods, masking methods and financial pressures. He implicated David Millar who later confessed to EPO use after police found traces in his hotel room.

2004 Tyler Hamilton stripped of Olympic gold after failing blood doping test. However, the second back up test couldn’t be made due to technical error.

2004 David Miller Confesses to EPO use after traces found in flat. Banned for two years

2005 Dario Frigo expelled from 2005 Tour after products found in car.

2005 Roberto Heras won a 4th consecutive Vuelta a Espagne but tested positive for EPO and was stripped of title.

2006 Operation Puerto – Ivan Basso and Jan Ulrich barred from entering Tour de France due to suspicions they were under. Basso later admitted to contacting Dr Fuentas with the intention to engage in blood doping, although he said he never actually did dope.

2006 Flloyd Landis – Failed test for testorenoe after winning lone break to reclaim tour lead. After lengthy challenge, initial test was upheld and Landis was stripped of title.

2007 – Alexandre Vinokourov – failed test for blood doping after winning time trial during tour de france.

2007 – Michael Rasmussen – Whilst wearing the yellow jersey, Rasmussen was sacked by his team Rabobank for lying about his whearabouts in the previous months. Rasmussen was actually in Mexico and unable to take dope tests. Many felt this was an opportunity to take doping products.

2007 Iban Mayo tested positive for EPO

2008 Manuel Beltran positive for EPO in Tour De France

2008 Riccardo Ricci positive for EPO after winning mountain top stage in Tour De France. Ricci later admitted to taking EPO on 10 previous stages and admitted tests failed to pick up many occasions of EPO use.

Some Riders Who have admitted to Drug Use

  • Freddy Maertens – admitted to use in small races, although claimed he didn’t use them in big races for fear of testing positive.
  • Fausto Coppi
  • Jacques Anqeutil -
  • Laurent Fignon in his book We were Young and Carefree -  “In those days everyone was doing it,”
  • Rooks said he used testosterone and amphetamines during his whole 13 year career.
  • Peter Winnen admitted to doping in 1986 Tour “I was very bad and had the choice: go back to home or to provide me with testosterone.”
  • Gert-Jan Theunisse admitted use of some doping products
  • Jesper Skibby of Denmark released his autobiography in November, in which he confessed to having used doping for more than 10 years.
  • Claudio Chiappucci from Italy, confessed in 1997 that he had used drugs from 1993 – 1995, but later retracted that statement
  • Paul Kimmage admitted to trying amphetamines after resisting for most of his career. His book ‘rough ride’ received a rough reception from the procycling community because of its implications about drug use.
  • Rolf Aldag of Germany admitted having used Erythropoietin (EPO) in preparation for the 1996 Tour de France on 24 May 2007
  • Udo Bölts, Bert Dietz of Germany confessed publicly on May 23 2007 to having used EPO and growth hormones in preparation for the Tour de France in 1996 with Team T-Mobile.
  • Bjarne Riis of Denmark won the 1996 Tour de France under the effects of EPO, growth hormone and cortisone. On May 25 2007 he admitted “for a time doping was a part of everyday life for me”.[110]
  • Filippo Simeoni of Italy admitted in 2002 that he was instructed by doctor Michele Ferrari in 1996 and 1997 on how to use the EPO and Human Growth Hormone that were prescribed. He also testified in court that he had used doping since 1993.
  • Erik Zabel of Germany, on 24 May 2007, admitted having used Erythropoietin (EPO) in preparation for the 1996 Tour de France. In the press conference he said that he experimented with EPO for a week, but did stop then due to severe side effects.
  • Richard Virenque – after protracted denials and in face of overwhelming evidence.
  • Alex Zulle Member of Festina
  • Laurent Rous
  • Jesus Manzano of Spain exposed doping practices in a series of articles in the Spanish newspaper Diario AS in March 2004. This led to Operiacin Puerto
  • David Miller – EPO

Deaths from EPO

Doctors and blood specialists concluded that the drug could have been implicated in the deaths of as many as 18 European professional bicycle racers between 1987 and 1999. It is hard to be precise but there are many occassions of riders dieing from heart diesease.

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