A Dutch sports medicine doctor has stirred up a hornet's nest of reactions to his comments that Belgian cyclo-cross racers have used EPO since the late 90's, and that this is why they've dominated the sport. Berend Nikkels made the statements last week, and could now find himself as the subject of a legal complaint filed by the Belgian cycling federation (KBWB) who are outraged at the Dutchman's comments, reports Het Laatste Nieuws.
Nikkels did not name any specific riders, but according to the KBWB, his statements have caused irreparable damage to the riders, the teams and the federation. In a statement, they claim, "The KBWB cannot and will not accept this, and have requested that their lawyers take the necessary legal steps against Nikkels, and seek compensation for the irreparable damage which [the statements] may have caused to sponsorship income, television rights, and organisation of championships." The statement continued, "these judgements scuttle the efforts of the KBWB, riders and organizers over the last few years to create the success which we now have."
Nikkels was quoted by Het Laatste Nieuws as saying "Since the end of the '90s, the Flemish cyclo-crossers have been injecting EPO and Aranesp. I know this first hand, from persons who are close to them, and also from their competitors. I don't want to give names, but I'm talking about the whole group."
Other statements from Nikkels have attacked not just Belgian 'crossers, but roadies as well. "Of the road-pros 95% are doped." According to Nikkels doping is still organised within teams, and he attacked Quick Step director Patrick Lefevere. "People like Lefevere know this first [when a rider on the team is doping]... I know what he does. But I can't tell it, otherwise I will accuse people of using EPO, and I can't do that, because the information I get falls under my professional confidentiality. But yes, I have concrete proof against Lefevere. The most recent from the fall of 2005."
Ironically, Nikkels has advocated the supervised use of EPO to his own clients in the past. He openly advises his clients, Dutch and Belgian athletes, on use of performance enhancing products. "Sometimes I get a athlete who wants information on doping. I advise and prescribe a certain product, they do the rest... They can do that. I simply don't believe that doping creates more deaths then mustard or 'peperkoek' (cake)."
The reactions from Belgians have been unsurprisingly vehement. Belgian national cyclo-cross coach Rudy de Bie told Sporza.be "These are serious accusations and it's now up to him to prove it. But if it stays only words, I hope someone will sue him, because he's attacking the whole Flemish cyclo-cross community."
Belgian cyclo-cross star Bart Wellens told Sporza.be "What can we do about this? Because this doctor isn't giving names, we shouldn't even think about suing him. I would rather want him to give the names, let the court do it's job and prosecute the guilty ones, even if Belgians are implicated. I'd rather have that then making everyone guilty."
This isn't the first such assault the Belgian federation has had to fend off. In September, Jean-Marie Dedecker claimed that he knew of several top Belgian cyclists who were involved in doping in Italy, but also refused to name names.