Former Gerolsteiner rider and Tour de France podium finisher Bernhard Kohl is now an open book on doping practices in the peloton after he was caught for blood booster EPO-CERA in August last year and recently announced his retirement from the sport. In an exclusive interview with L'Equipe, the Austrian detailed how he "prepared" himself for last year's Tour and received blood transfusions from his manager during the event.
As he had already confessed earlier, Kohl had two litres of his own blood available for re-injection at the Tour, of which he used 1.5 litres. "Nothing else," he said. "Too many surprise controls. No testosterone patch, nothing, except caffeine, pseudo-ephedrine and some analgesics. EPO, growth hormone, insulin - I took that before [the Tour], not during the race."
The blood transfusions took place in the evenings at the team hotels. Kohl's manager, Stefan Matschiner, flew to France three times during the Tour to meet the cyclist and provide him with a pouch of 0.5 litres of blood. "He sent me an SMS: 'You can come to my room'. I disappeared for 20 minutes, nothing more. Nobody noticed anything," Kohl stated.
The rider continued by saying that the anti-doping controls taking place at 7AM on the mountain stages could be outsmarted. "By re-injecting half a litre of blood, the blood parameters are not subject to suspect variation. My manager also injected me with albumin to dilute my hematocrit. Moreover, I always practiced the transfusions 48 hours before the decisive stages: you're not at the top on the next day, you have to wait two days for the effects to be felt."
The International Cycling Union 's (UCI) biological passport failed to prevent Kohl from practicing blood doping on a regular basis during his career, he said. "The top riders are so professional in their doping that they know very well they have to keep their blood values stable not to be detected. The UCI sent us the values resulting from the controls: we thus referred to those to mark the next ones. In a way, the passport almost helped us."
As to his positive control for third-generation EPO, CERA, Kohl did not know why it was him who tested positive - along with teammate Stefan Schumacher and Riccardo Riccò - and not other Tour de France riders.
"Everybody in the cycling scene was convinced that this EPO was not detectable. Many more riders had taken it. Oddly enough, we were only three to fall. I am convinced that the top ten could have been positive," the Austrian said. "It just happened to be me, tough luck. I didn't ask for a counter-analysis: this masquerade was over."
Kohl also pointed at the omertà within the peloton, giving the impression that everybody knows about doping. "I did not cheat anyone in the peloton, be sure of that. When I was a young rider and did not win anything, I didn't take the costly products because I didn't have the money. I knew what the 'big ones' took, but that's just how it was. There is like a social organisation within the peloton, these things are accepted. The guys appreciate and respect the efforts of others without taking doping into account."
The young Austrian became a 'big one' and could afford top level performance-enhancing products and methods like CERA and autologous blood transfusion. After admitting to doping, Kohl is now collaborating with Austrian police and anti-doping authorities, and wants to do the same on an international level with the UCI and World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). He does not think of a comeback.
"I know the rules in the scene: those who really speak out do not come back. Therefore, I move on to something else, without regrets."