Thibaut Pinot has said that he feels betrayed by Groupama-FDJ teammate Georg Preidler, who confessed to extracting his blood for a possible transfusion on two occasions late last year. In an interview with L'Équipe on Tuesday, Pinot described Preidler's actions as "high treason."
On Sunday, Preidler informed Groupama-FDJ management that he was quitting the team after he confessed to having his blood extracted to Austrian police. Fellow Austrian rider Stefan Denifl has also confessed to blood doping after being interviewed by police as part of the 'Operation Aderlass' blood doping inquiry. Pinot learned of Preidler's confession via social media on Monday morning.
"When I saw it, I was stunned," Pinot told L'Équipe. "I didn't expect that at all, especially coming from a guy like that. It was really difficult. I even shed a tear, because for me, it was high treason.
"I can't digest it, I'm trying to understand. Yesterday I wasn't able to train. This morning, I went and did two hours on the bike, but I didn't think about anything other than that because I have so many questions with no answers. It's running around my head."
Preidler signed for Groupama-FDJ from Sunweb at the beginning of 2018 and was part of the group of climbing domestiques that followed a broadly similar racing programme to Pinot. The Austrian was by Pinot's side at the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España last year, and he helped him to win the Tour du Haut-Var last week.
Pinot said that his sense of betrayal was all the more acute because Preidler had become a friend during their season together at Groupama-FDJ.
"When he won his stage at the Tour of Poland, I was as happy as though I'd won myself, because I had feelings of friendship for that guy," Pinot said. "After that, did he want to win races himself or did he just want to be stronger to be at my side? Those are the questions I'm asking myself and I don't have any answers because he had no pressure on him to get results.
"He was with me at Haut-Var, and before Mont Faron [where Pinot won – ed.] he did a lot of work to bring back the break. He was an essential ally for me. I would like to understand. He had become a friend. I almost felt sorry for him, because he's screwed up his life, the idiot."
Pinot has been a professional at FDJ since 2010 and he said that Preidler's is the first doping case he has encountered at close quarters. Pinot's brother Julien is part of the coaching staff at Groupama-FDJ and oversaw Preidler's training.
"He was one of the two, three teammates who were essential for me," Pinot said. "He was a rider of sound mind, who fitted in with our way of being. He was very natural, very understated, very shy. I can't understand how he could do that. The only thing that just about comforts me is that he couldn't keep this secret, he couldn't stop himself from coming forward. He wasn't able to carry that weight."
Pinot has not heard from Preidler since news of his confession broke on Monday, and the Austrian has removed himself from social media.
"I think everything hasn't come out yet and maybe one day he'll write to me, but, well, I've been betrayed. I also think about this poor boy who's screwed up his life. He had everything to succeed. He was in a healthy team, he was surrounded by good people," said Pinot, who echoed teammate Benoit Vaugrenard in noting that FDJ offered a higher level of job security than many other teams.
"He wasn't looking for glory or money, he just wanted to help me. He didn't have any worries about his job being precarious. He had a lot of physical problems at the end of the year, he must have had a period of doubt."
As well as Preidler and Denifl, five Nordic skiers have so far been implicated in the blood doping scandal, while Dr. Mark Schmidt, formerly of Gerolsteiner and Milram, has been arrested and reportedly had 40 blood bags seized from his practice in Erfurt, Germany.
"For the moment, we know about seven people, but I think it's a lot bigger than that. If a guy like him felt able to say yes, it's maybe because he knew he wasn't alone. We're waiting to find out. I just hope he wasn't lying to us from the beginning," Pinot said.
"In cycling, I'm not just looking for performance, it's also about the bonds of friendship. This goes beyond cycling, it's the betrayal of a friend. When that happens to a guy you don't know, you tell yourself that it's good enough for him. But this is something else."