Although he has adamantly denied assisting in covering up doping, the Dutch press has amassed more anecdotal evidence that former UCI president Hein Verbruggen was informed of the fast rise in EPO use in the peloton, but did little to stop it.
According to the Algameen Dagblad (AD.nl), Edwig Van Hooydonck, a two-time Tour of Flanders champion who retired when he realized increasing use of EPO in the peloton was making it impossible for him to compete, warned Verbruggen of the drug's rise.
"After I retired, I had a conversation with Verbruggen, I told him what was going on ... that EPO was on the rise since the beginning of the 90s, but he said I was exaggerating."
It was the early days of Verbruggen's presidency when EPO made its way into the peloton, but by the end of his tenure, which closed as Lance Armstrong made his own exit from the sport, the drug had transformed cycling.
As the world now knows from the testimony collected by the US Anti-Doping Agency in its investigation of Armstrong and doping at the US Postal Service team, and from other inquiries, riders were brazenly doping with confidence that they could avoid testing positive. Verbruggen has maintained the UCI had no responsibility, that if the tests couldn't catch the riders it was the testers' fault.
“I don't understand the whole fuss at all,” Verbruggen said in an interview with the Dutch magazine De Muur earlier this year. “If you test someone 215 times and he is always negative, then the problem is in the test itself. Well, I'm not responsible."
"It is easy to say, 'you knew it!' but nobody knew anything for sure. We only had suspicions (...) We did what we could only detect nothing we could. (...) I don't understand all this fuss at all (...) We knew as much as the journalists....”
However, according to an anecdote by former PDM rider Peter Stevenhaagen in AD.nl, Verbruggen did little to counter the impression that the UCI was in control of who was caught.
Stevenhaagen described a conversation he had with Verbruggen after a newspaper interview quoted the rider as being critical of the UCI's management of the sport. "You have a problem, boy. I can I make or break riders like you. I decide who is positive. I knows what's going on at PDM," Stevenhaagen recalled Verbruggen stating.
Verbruggen denied the statements, but Stevenhaagen was frightened. "After that confrontation I was subjected to more doping controls than normal. I was scared, and I didn't dare participate in the Tour in 1988. I threw away the cortisone and testosterone vials."
The statements mirror those of former Mapei boss Giorgio Squinzi, who claims Verbruggen threatened his team with disqualification after he stated in an interview that it was impossible to win the Tour de France without drugs.
According to a voicemail shared with Cyclingnews by Slipstream Sports CEO Jonathan Vaughters, the threats from Verbruggen extended past his tenure as president.