Holm on Sørensen's doping admission and the Danish Coffee Club

Former pro Brian Holm is currently a directeur sportif for Omega Pharma-QuickStep

Former pro Brian Holm is currently a directeur sportif for Omega Pharma-QuickStep (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

It was hardly surprising when earlier this month Rolf Sørensen admitted to the world that he used drugs during his career. The former winner of the Tour of Flanders and Liège-Bastogne-Liège released a statement stating that EPO as well as cortisone were regular staples of his regime.

At the Three Days of De Panne fellow Dane Brian Holm, now a director at Omega Pharma-QuickStep, told Cyclingnews that despite the admission he still respected Sørensen as a rider.

Both men rode together during the stimulant-heavy 1990s, while Holm admitted to his past drug use in his 2002 autobiography.

During the 1990s Danish cycling was on the march. Sørensen, Holm and Jesper Skibby were household names, forging careers in mainland Europe when Scandinavian riders were forced to relocate to Spain and Italy in a quest to turn professional. Bjarne Riis sent the nation into raptures in 1996 when he became the first man from his homeland to win the Tour and Holm was a Telekom teammate.

The Danish contingent was nicknamed the ‘Danish Coffee Club', first by Phil Anderson, and their numbers grew to roughly half a dozen. They would ride together at the back of the bunch together and despite riding for different teams, they would often celebrate each other's wins as if they wore the same jerseys. On the bike camaraderie would extend to off the bike situations, too. Mess with a member of the Coffee Club and you'd find six angry Danes on your case or on your back wheel the next day.

"It's dead now. It doesn't exist any more. It's history," Holm told Cyclingnews at De Panne.

Unlike most of the Danish riders at the time Sørensen wasn't part of the club. Having moved to Italy as a teenager Sørensen, or Il Biondo as he was nicknamed, matured first at Murella-Fanini in 1986 and then at Giancarlo Ferretti's Ariostea squad.

"Rolf simply wasn't really invited," Holm said.

"He wasn't part of it. It was a member club and we didn't let Rolf in. He was a bit too Italian, hanging out with the big guys if you know what I mean. Bjarne, he was with us on and off, but it was me, Peter Meinert Nielsen, Skibby, and probably a few more. There were five or six of us in the club.

"We were good. We did all the races and we'd sit at the back in our little club and we always knew what would happen so we'd move up to the front in just one kilometre. Our biggest years were from 1991 to '96 but then we started to slow when guys started quitting careers."

After stints at Ariostea and Carrera, Sørensen moved back to Ferretti and his MG team. Sørensen then joined Rabobank, winning a stage of the 1996 Tour and a memorable edition of the Tour of Flanders a year later. Dropping Laurent Jalabert on the early bergs, he later escaped with the late Franco Ballerini (Mapei) and Frédéric Moncassin (Gan) before a late attack sealed the win.

"He was a superstar. When we were with him we were a bit jealous because he won a lot and was simply a better cyclist," Holm said, partly explaining why Sørensen was never really in the club.

"Now he's admitted to doping, surprise, surprise, because it's been coming for a number of years.

"Everyone pretends they're shocked but for me it's not funny. The press in Denmark they were joking about it, taking the piss out of him. There's a Danish radio programme that ran a joke called ‘Rolf is clean' and it was getting worse and worse and in the end he felt the pressure."

In his confession Sørensen apologised for doping but also for the lateness of his confession. Since retiring in 2002 he had been asked several times about the issue but always denied the matter publicly.

"Some say it's too late but there's never really a right moment - tell me a good moment to admit something like that? The more you win the harder it gets to admit something like that.

"It's up to other people to judge, because I'm not in a position to. Those years were different to now and I would never compare the '80s and '90s to now. I'll leave all the judging to the smarter people than me."

While Holm has his hands full at Omega Pharma-QuickStep, Sørensen works for a Danish television network, but it's not clear if he will attend this weekend's Tour of Flanders or keep his distance.

"I never really talk to him but I see him on and off. As a cyclist I still have a lot of respect for him. Someone who won Flanders and Liège you have to show some respect to.

"Cycling is changing now," Holm said. "Everyone is a bit smarter and wiser, it's a different cycling now. The good old days...they are over and thank god for that."

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Daniel Benson

Daniel Benson was the Editor in Chief at Cyclingnews.com between 2008 and 2022. Based in the UK, he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he ran the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.