By Susan Westemeyer
A Belgian TV program Panorama claimed on Sunday night that former professional cyclist Uwe Ampler introduced EPO to Team Telekom in the early 1990s, against the will of team manager Walter Godefroot. Bjarne Riis allegedly made use of that and other doping products when he won the Tour de France in 1996, according to former soigneur Jef D'hondt.
According to D'hondt, he was at Telekom when Ampler, who rode for the team, starting using EPO. His good racing results encouraged the other riders to try it. "It was the riders themselves who asked for the EPO," D'hondt said, according to Sporza. "Our doctors at the University of Freiburg supplied them."
D'hondt specifically named two further Telekom riders. He claimed that Riis had a particularly high hematocrit, caused by the use of EPO. During the Tour de France 1996, which the Dane won, "Riis had a hematocrit of 64 at one time during the Tour," according to D'hondt, who further claimed that the now-CSC manager developed rheumatism because of his use of doping products.
The other Telekom rider named was Erik Zabel, who the Belgian said "did not participate" in the use of the doping substance. "Our sprinter Erik Zabel did not do it. He tried a small amount, but he was categorically against it. He said that he did not need it."
In response, Walter Godefroot, who is now team manager for Team Astana, said, "There was no organised team doping at Team Telekom," according to sporza. However, according to Het Laatste Nieuws, Godefroot confirmed that he had heard of EPO use on the team and communicated that to the UCI. He added that there was no sense browsing in the past. "We have learned enough already," he said. "Let us leave the past behind and concentrate on the future."
Quickstep Manager Patrick Lefevere also appeared on the program, and according to sportwereld, said angrily, "Just what do you want, anyway? Do you want every rider to get down on his knees and confess?"
Another name from the past appeared in the story - Jesus Manzano, who claimed that "there were tricks to get around the doping tests." Manzano said that after he had a severe crash in the 2003 Tour and he was waiting for an ambulance, his team manager whispered to him to keep quiet about his use of doping products.
The program concluded that EPO is no longer in use, at least among Belgian riders. Various doctors stated that such riders as Tom Boonen, Nick Nuyens and Gert Steegmans are not using EPO. Their development to become top riders was reportedly the result of a natural progression, and their blood values have remained constant over the years. Both Nuyens and Steegmans appeared on the show to deny that they had ever used doping products.