Norwegian cycling has been put “in a very bad light” by Steffen Kjærgaard's doping disclosures, Thor Hushovd has said. It was also revealed that the Norwegian national coach who took Kjærgaard and Hushovd to the 2002 Worlds knew about the doping, but did not disclose his knowledge either at that time nor when Kjærgaard replaced him as coach in 2006.
Earlier this week Kjærgaard announced at a press conference that he had started using EPO in 1998 whilst at Chicky World and continued with it during his years at US Postal, 2000 to 2003. One of his teammates at Chicky World was Svein Gaute Hølestøl, who went on to become sporting director at the Norwegian cycling federation in 2002.
Hølestøl has now admitted that he knew of Kjærgaard's doping at the Danish team, but did not say anything as “I would not tell on a mate.” He nominated Kjærgaard for the 2002 Worlds with the knowledge that he had doped in the past, but claimed not to know whether he was still using EPO at the time.
“I did not know anything about what Steffen was involved in at US Postal.,” he told procycling.no. “After our ways separated, we did not discuss it and I was not aware of what he did. There was much focus on anti-doping in the period and it could be that he had gone on the straight path. There was a lot of focus on it, both in Norway and abroad. He could have been clean between 2001 and 2003.”
When Hølestøl left the post in 2006, he was replaced by none other than Kjærgaard, but still made no disclosure of his knowledge, as he did not feel that it was his responsibility to do so. He regrets that decision now.
“It is plain that I regret it a bit now, and should have done something already back in 1998. I could have threatened Steffen to make public what he was doing. I should not have taken him to the World's and not let him take part association.”
Hushovd said that this doping case “affects him more” than other recent stories, and that “Norwegian riders have lost a lot of confidence after one of their few professional cyclists has admitted to EPO use."
Hølestøl should not have taken Kjærgaard to the Worlds, and should have said something when Kjærgaard was named to the federation post, Hushovd said. “Of course he should have called it out. I think he chose to put the responsibility on Steffen himself.”
Hushovd disappointed but healthy again
The news was “unpleasant,” Hushovd said. “I find it odd that when you have competed in for example, the Norwegian championship, then you have competed against someone who has cheated. I had not counted on that. It may well be that I was naive, but yes, it surprises me.”
While the Lance Armstrong case has dominated international headlines, Hushovd admitted that the Kjærgaard revelations were very damaging to Norwegian cycling. “If I'm honest, I think people out there are much more concerned with what Lance Armstrong has done, and how the case develops, than with Steffen Kjærgaard. But for those of us who are involved in cycling in Norway, such as the president of the cycling federation who was not aware of it, it's a big blow.”
It makes matters worse that Kjærgaard subsequently had a leadership role with the federation. “He got the job and the role for what he has achieved,” Hushovd said. “Maybe he has put it behind him, and taken on the role of a skilled sports director. But when he makes statements on anti-doping and then afterwards admits all this, of course, it puts it in a very bad light.”
There was some good news for Hushovd, however, who missed much of the 2012 season with a virus infection. BMC team manager Jim Ochowicz this week told Cyclingnews that the former World champion is 100 percent healthy again and training fully.