News feature: May 26, 2007
At a press conference held on Friday at Team CSC's headquarters in Kongens, Lyngby, just outside Copenhagen, the winner of the 1996 Tour de France Bjarne Riis confessed to doping during a period from 1993 to 1998. Cyclingnews' Katharina Schulz covered Riis' public admissions and his pleas for a better future for the sport of cycling.
Bjarne Riis admitted that he took EPO, human growth hormone, and cortisone when he won the Tour de France title in 1996. In those days, however, he said it was part of the game, and that he didn't have a choice. "I was a professional cyclist under the conditions that were given at the time," he said putting in context his claim that he is still proud of his achievements. "I feel good about that victory, even though I didn't earn it in an honest way."
Riis is ready to accept the consequences of his actions and part with his winner's jersey: "My yellow jersey is in a box in my garage at home. You can come and collect it. What matters to me are my memories." With no other way to sanction Riis, the UCI issued a press release Friday in response to Riis' admissions asking for the Tour winner's jersey to be returned .
"The time has come to put the cards on the table," said Riis. "I have done things which I now regret and which I wouldn't do again. I have doped. I have taken EPO. For awhile, it was part if my everyday life," Riis told a huge press crowd that was almost too big for the location. Apparently, CSC had not expected that so many journalists would accept their invitation.
"The only effect was that I was riding faster." -Bjarne Riis responding to a question about side effects of EPO he experienced.
Riis underlined that he was making his statements as an individual, but that it was no tough decision for him to make. "Today I am here to put the past behind me. I am giving this statement as the private person Bjarne Riis. This has not been difficult for me."
He apologised to those he had deceived. "I have lied to myself and others as well. In that respect, of course I want to apologise. I can console myself with the thought that those who know me have faith in me." He never kept his actions secret from his family. They knew he used banned substances, and he added that it is important for him to take personal responsibility for his actions. "Like everyone else, I have made mistakes in my life. Those were my decisions and my mistakes, and I have to take the responsibility."
Riis' statement came as the latest admission in a series of confessions from former members of the Telekom team of the 1990s. Today, another Dane who rode for Team Telekom, Mikael Kyneb, told B.T. that he had also taken EPO, and on Thursday, Rolf Aldag and Erik Zabel admitted to doping, too.
It is not a trend that Riis welcomes. "There is a tendency to drag the silly mistakes of the past in to the present day and make them the most important thing in cycling today. I find that hard to understand. I don't see that it's necessary that everyone comes forward now."
He maintained that there was no systematic doping on Team Telekom and that it was his own decision to dope himself. He said he bought the substances himself, even though Jef d'Hont was the first to introduce him to doping. The first time d'Hont wanted to administer a banned substance to Riis, he didn't tell him what it was, and Riis refused to take it. Since then, their relationship has been "not as it should be, and therefore I'm on his blacklist," Riis said. He is irritated over the kind of sensational revelations d'Hont made in his book and stressed, "I have made these decisions for myself and no one else, and I don't wish to point a finger at anyone."
Riis also rejected involvement with the infamous Luigi Cecchini. On the contrary, he claimed Cecchini told him to be careful. "Cecchini is a good person, a decent human being, and I wish people knew him better."
Erik Zabel reported yesterday that he only tried EPO once and never again because he suffered serious side effects. Asked whether he had experienced any unwelcome consequences, Riis said, "The only effect was that I was riding faster." On the other hand, he also insisted that he worked hard for his victories and that they were not gained by doping alone. "You can take as much as you like. But if you don't have the talent, you're not going to win."
He also denied that he ever had a hematocrit as high as 60 or even 64, as d'Hont claims in his book. Though he cannot say what his highest rate, he said,: "It's not like you test your blood every day." However, it was "high enough to win." Despite using unallowed drugs, Riis said, "I always had my health in mind. I stuck to a small number of products. I don't feel bad about that."
Riis has repeatedly rejected questions concerning his past with reference to the fact that it is the future of cycling which concerns him. This is why he broke his silence Friday. "I am doing this today because I wish for cycling to have a good future."
"I was part of the sport both in a good and a bad sense. Fortunately, that sport has developed since my active days. If that development hadn't occurred, I would no longer be a part of that sport today. I am glad that things have changed radically."
He is proud that his team believes in the way they are going now, and that he can be part of that. "I think I'm fit for the position I am in. Otherwise I wouldn't be in that position. I have done this [i.e. confessed doping] for the sake of the team. That is the most important thing to me. Over the last year I haven't had the energy that I needed in the face of all the disturbances around Ivan Basso and also myself. I have so much to give to the team and professional cycling, that I grew tired of not being able to do it properly."
But he is also willing to leave the sport should it be necessary: "If people think I should pack my bags and leave, then I'll do that, but I think that professional cycling still can make use of people like me. Since he still has the support of his sponsors, it seems unlikely that he should be forced to leave. "The most important sponsors were informed beforehand, and I am glad about the support I have got from their part."
Riis says he is devoted to the anti-doping course that CSC is taking, and he believes "It would never have got that far had we had a system like this back in 1996."