By Susan Westemeyer in Bonn
A tearful Erik Zabel appeared at the T-Mobile press conference Thursday along with former teammate Rolf Aldag to confess to using the banned blood booster EPO while riding for the Team Telekom in the 1990s. Current T-Mobile Team Manager Bob Stapleton praised the two for coming forward, saying that Aldag would continue to work for the team, and promised "further significant changes in our program this year and next year." (Read Cyclingnews' earlier article on the scheduled press conference.)
Zabel was a surprise guest at the press conference in Bonn, Germany. Visibly moved and fighting back tears -- sometimes unsuccessfully -- he admitted to having used EPO during the first week of the Tour de France 1996. The side-effects were so great, however, that he stopped with it. He admitted that he did not know how his current team Milram would accept his confession, and it not clear what is his present status with the team.
He was unable to control his voice or hold back his tears when he spoke of his son Rick. "My son rides, too, and I don't want him to go through what I went through," said the four-time winner of Milano-Sanremo.
"It doesn't make any difference whether it happened one time or over two years, the point is that it was forbidden to dope, and I doped. I doped, I lied and I apologize for that."
Aldag confessed to a longer history of doping. He started with EPO before the 1995 Tour de France, and he said that continued with it. In 1997, he hit a hematocrit of 50 percent, and started wondering whether it was worth it. His highest blood value was 53 percent. Finally in 1999, at the age of 30, he decided to stop using the products.
Stapleton said that a major reason he decided to keep Aldag on was the team. "I have spoken to our athletes, asked how they feel about things and about the team management. Many of them said that Rolf Aldag was the reason they are here. That is very important. They resoundingly said that he should stay and that he has their full and complete support."