"I would have been better off lying"
Dutch cyclist Marc Lotz, suspended for two years for admitting to EPO use, is considering a return to the peloton after his ban runs out on June 1, 2007. Lotz (32) described the circumstances that led to his downfall in an interview with De Volkskrant's Marije Randewijk, reaching the conclusion that he would have been better off lying about it.
After years of working as a domestique for Rabobank, Lotz changed teams to Quick.Step this year. Although he never considered himself a winner, he still managed to ride strongly in the early season classics, helping Tom Boonen and Nick Nuyens in Belgium, and netting himself a nice second place in Brabantse Pijl in March. But in May, as the Tour de France approached, Lotz said that he began to look for "new roads", as he wanted to be in a position to win a stage in the Tour. In the 2004 race, he been part of three breakaways, but did not possess the strength and confidence to finish them off.
"The last time I was there I was always thinking how I would explain that I hadn't won again," he said. "Marc Lotz still couldn't beat all the good riders? That was out of the question. I thought 'It's all good and well, but I don't have the legs of Erik Dekker.'"
In May 2005, Lotz and a bodybuilder friend of his visited a pharmacy in Aachen, on the German/Dutch/Belgian border. He got his friend to buy him some EPO, as he was afraid he would be seen. His plan was to take very small doses in order not to get caught. "If you are really caught for EPO, then you're stupid," he explained. "The apparatuses are becoming more sensitive. I was not afraid of the controls. Say that you have to take half a litre according to a prescription, then I would take an egg-cup. That was the plan. That they could never find it, but it would still be in my body, so that it would help me a little bit. I had that in my head."
But a month later, the Belgian police from Tongeren questioned him after finding his name and phone number among the papers of a Dutch drug dealer. Lotz denied being involved, and told the police that he had to go and train. "Sunday I ride the Dauphiné Libéré. It's for the Tour. Heard of it?" He was allowed to go.
Shortly afterwards, 15 police searched his house and found...nothing, even missing the small plastic bag containing EPO in the bottom of his freezer. Lotz didn't realise this as he surreptitiously watched them searching his house. "I peeped around the corner. I saw men everywhere. I didn't understand anything. How could it be: has someone betrayed me, have they followed me? Again, I thought 'how could this happen?'"
Lotz was taken back to the police cell in Tongeren for interrogation, and kept overnight. The next morning, he learned that his bodybuilder friend had been put in custody, and that the police had found a frozen banana in Lotz's freezer. "They had no idea that you could make a lovely cool milkshake out of it," said Lotz, who more or less assumed that they had also found the EPO. Then Lotz began to panic, as they'd told him that he had no right to a lawyer and it was just five days before the start of the Dauphiné.
"They began to threaten me: 'Mr Lotz, we can hold you in custody for a month.' I thought 'What? A month? F***, I have to get out of here. I'll tell them everything and then I can go home this evening. Then I can sleep and train tomorrow again.'"
Lotz was therefore amazed at the reaction of the investigating judge when he told him what was in his freezer. "'What? EPO? Where?' They opened all the drawers and cupboards, in search of stuff that has to be kept cold, and didn't find anything? I was better off lying. Jesus man, I gave in far too quickly."
Lotz hasn't been questioned again by the police, as he didn't have any other dealings with the pharmacist in Aachen. He was, however, forced to resign from Quick.Step and was given a two year suspension by the Belgian cycling federation starting from June 1, 2005. He will not be allowed to ride for a ProTour team for four years. That might have all been irrelevant, as in June this year he declared he would retire from the sport anyway. He has since gained a diploma as a maths teacher, has finished a broker's course, and was looking at life after cycling.
But the bug didn't leave him. "What hurts me the most is that I haven't got a goal any more," he said. "I'm not proud of my career. It's not over, there's a big gap there. I'll never do it [drugs] again. Oh no, of course not! It's my own fault, but that thing has caused me so much misery. If I have to ride again, I will give it 100 percent. Then I'll get them back, on a sporting level. But if I think about it rationally, I know that will not happen. I already lived 98 percent for my sport; with an additional two percent, I won't do anything great."