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Team manager, Hans-Michael Holczer
Former Gerolsteiner boss talks doping
Back in January at Katusha's training camp the team's new boss Hans-Michael Holczer told Cyclingnews that if two or three riders tested positive on a team it would be time to walk away. Since Denis Galimzyanov tested positive for EPO in an out of competition test, announced earlier this week, will he consider backing out of cycling?
Holczer has experience with riders testing positive: his Gerolsteiner squad disbanded at the end of 2008 after its sponsor pulled out and three riders tested positive in five months.
"I never said that I was leaving cycling, I said that at the point where I have two positive riders it was time for me to go. For all the years I said to my colleagues, you're responsible for what happens in your team and if something happens in my team then I have to go," he told Cyclingnews.
"In a similar situation if two riders or three riders [are positive] in five months you really have to think if you're the right man in this job because you are responsible for what happens in your team, even if you can't control it."
While Galimzyanov and Katusha were keen to stress that he had acted alone in using EPO, it still leaves Holczer in an awkward position. If another rider tests positive, even it's through his own foolishness rather than anything systematic, will Holczer walk away?
Cyclingnews asked the German for an update on his January comments but his press officer only confirmed by saying "he answered your question already."
At the team's January camp, Katusha spirits appeared to be high. The Andrei Tchmil presence had been moved on, new riders had been brought in to replace a few notable non-performers, and the team was on bikes they all deemed as better than their previous steeds. Plenty of the backroom staff had been replaced too, with Torsten Schmidt, Erik Zabel and Valerio Piva among the new faces.
"I'm back in cycling and to be honest it's been rather quick," Holczer confessed in January.
"There were times in Germany when I wasn't trying that hard to find a sponsor and I'd sit there and think that was it. But things have gone the other way. I was introduced to the ITERA management, I held a presentation and then there was an offer to take the team on. That was a surprise and this is a situation that I couldn't have created. On one hand I had a nice normal life but on the other hand I missed cycling. To say no was impossible and for the rest of my life I would have regretted passing up the opportunity. So I took it."
It's now been almost 8 months, and today Joaquim Rodriguez papered over the cracks created by Galimzyanov with a win in Flèche Wallonne, but many questions remain unanswered, most importantly surrounding Galimzyanov's individual choice to cheat and how he obtained the means to do so.
Holczer may not know the answers to that, but he's dealt with this type of story before. Bernhard Kohl, Davide Rebellin and Stefan Schumacher all tested positive under Holczer's wing at Gerolsteiner in 2008.
"It's not my job to judge the past," he said in January.
"One thing I learnt. You can't control it [doping] away, not even in your team."
"You can't stop it and can't guarantee that it won't happen, and I've always said that. I will not put my hand in the fire for anybody. You can work against it but you have to learn to live with. That's not accepting or legalising it or turning away but you have to learn that it's realistic that it happens. That's what I learnt."
"If you had 3 guys in five months then I think it would be time to go but you have to see the situation and if I come to the conclusion that there might be something I would maybe go but that's not my main focus at the moment. I'm more concerned about building up a team and I'm pretty confident that after the biological passport we are on a really good way."
Holzcer is correct in that doping in sport – not just cycling - will always exist and that shying away from it isn't a practical solution. But Katusha are not immune from doping stories, Christian Pfannberger and Antonio Colom both tested positive in recent years and last year the team were subject to pre-Giro raids which resulted in complete medical records being handed over to authorities.
Holczer may have been unable to control what happened in Germany with Gerolsteiner, and he can't be blamed for Katusha's previous problems, but under his watch the team are already a third, or perhaps half-way to seeing him potentially walk away. Again.