Marcel Kittel and Matthias Brändle have reacted to the blood doping confessions of Stefan Denifl and Georg Preidler. The German sprinter has called for better support for young athletes to help them avoid the temptations of doping, while Brändle has said he would agree to lose all that he has earned during his 11-year professional career if he was ever caught doping.
Kittel comes from Erfurt in Germany, where Dr. Mark Schmidt was arrested and 40 blood bags were reportedly discovered in a garage. Five Nordic skiers were arrested at the World Championships in Seefeld, Austria last week as part of the inquiry, known as Operation Aderlass. Denifl confessed to blood doping after being questioned by police on Friday, while Preidler confessed over the weekend to twice extracting his blood during the final months of 2018.
Brändle revealed he had shared rooms with his fellow Austrian riders but said he was shocked to discover they had been prepared to blood dope to help their careers.
"I would have defended these two athletes in front of other people, never would have suspected or even expected. It seems I was just too naïve," Brändle wrote in a post on Facebook.
"As a clean athlete I feel betrayed by such people. They took away prize money and good contracts and now the reputation of our beautiful sport has been damaged massively. I just hope that the other blood bags can be identified and everyone, really anyone, who is connected to the subject of doping, is make accountable and punished hard.
"Perhaps the penalty for deliberate doping should be drastically raised by those in charge. It just seems to be much too tempting to get an illicit advantage. If there was a document that I could sign with which mean I'd lose everything I've earned in 11 years as a professional if I intentionally doped, I'd sign it straight away."
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Kittel calls for better support
Kittel recalled that he had been a teammate with Preidler during their time at Giant-Alpecin and was clearly hurt that his hometown of Erfurt and the region of Thüringen has become known as the centre of an international doping ring.
Kittel helped campaign for a law against doping in Germany after the doping scandals of the past. In 2013 the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruled that the UV light treatment Kittel and other athletes underwent in 2007 and 2008 could not be considered as doping, but he saw his name splashed across German media as part of an drawn-out investigation.
"I am very happy that this now has come to an end – as painful as it is," Kittel said in a message posted on his personal website.
"I find it tragic that a handful of people can do so much damage to the image of German sports and my hometown. In the coming days there will surely be new names and details made public, and I find one fact especially bad: that Dr. Schmidt's practice was also an official contact point of the LSB Thüringen for many young up-and-coming athletes, who were examined and treated there and now are put in a bad light, although they did nothing wrong.
"How can it be that after the experience of the controversy of the UV light treatment by Dr. Franke at the Olympic support centre Erfurt 2012, in which I was also involved, people here didn't become more aware? Even if you can't directly compare the cases, the consequences are again that it is the young athletes who suffer, because those in charge didn't properly look at things. That makes me angry and disappointed."
Kittel said he did not know Dr. Schmidt but argued that he had lost his right to a second chance because he was previously linked to serious doping accusations in 2008 when he worked with the Gerolsteiner team. Kittel counts himself lucky but understands the importance of educating athletes so they can resist the pressure to dope.
"How can we help athletes like Georg Preidler, who apparently slipped off the narrow path and could no longer hold out against the pressure?" Kittel asked in in his message.
"Some athletes aren't as lucky to have the environment that I have, one which has supported and protected me during my whole sports career. Success in sport is not just physical but also involves mental strength. That is why I think that especially young athletes can and must be prepared for this situation with coaching and much explanation, in order to be strong later when they are faced with temptation.
"And we athletes should not be left alone with this assignment. Sport plays an important role in society, keeps people healthy and fit, and provides both entertainment and role models. But all of that can become too much for an individual and they break because of it, or try to find a shortcut through doping."