Jörg Jaksche believes that a truthful Erik Zabel should be allowed to keep his job within professional cycling.
Zabel had originally confessed to taking EPO during the 1996 Tour de France in a tearful press conference back in 2007. However last month it was publicised that the German had also failed a test for the same substance during the 1998 Tour.
It led to a fuller confession from the former Milan-San Remo winner in which he detailed a far more systematic doping culture that ran in parallel with this own palmares and the peloton of the day. He was subsequently suspended by Katusha manager Viatcheslav Ekimov.
“He deserves to work,” Jaksche told Cyclingnews from his holidays in Australia.
“There are many people who doped and who are still in the sport and have never confessed. My father, he said to me once, be a man, make a decision and if you confess, don’t lie. It’s a personal thing though. Maybe for financial reasons Zabel chose to lie but others they didn’t say anything. I think if Zabel is getting honest with people then he deserves to work in the sport. The way things work though, it’s all about protecting yourself, protecting your bank account and then protecting the sport.”
Now an activist with the Change Cycling Now lobby group, Jaksche has already been through Zabel’s confession predicament. Retired from the sport, Jaksche was embroiled in the Operacion Puerto scandal that erupted in 2006. He, like Zabel, attempted to bury the truth, even offering a DNA test to prove his innocence. However, after a brief stay of execution at Tinkoff he was handed a year-long ban and confessed to his entire doping past.
“I chose another way and I thought my way is the better way but probably for him the financial point of view the best way was to lie at his confession. I’m not a person to judge him on this though.”
“For many years I’ve been saying that you need to be honest about the past and then you can have a better future. The worst case is when people are not honest about their past, they confess and they’re still lying.”
That scenario came to a head when the French senate published the names of riders who had tested positive in the 1998 Tour through a set of retrospective tests carried out in 2004. Erik Zabel, Stuart O’Grady and the late Marco Pantani were all listed but given the fact that cycling has dealt with a catalogue of confessions over the last twelve months, a tolerance to such headlines may have been created. An acceptance that the vast majority of riders from that era doped is recognised with more of a shrug of the shoulders than a look of disbelief.
“To be honest, this was just for the audience and the spectators,” Jaksche said when asked about the 1998 positives.
“It was just another confirmation of what riders like me, Landis and Hamilton have said about the past.”
“So we have problems from the 1998 Tour that could have been addressed by people like Erik Zabel in 2007. It always comes back. In my case, or in Landis’ or Hamilton’s there are no secrets anymore and it would have been good if that was the case all over the sport. We now find ourselves confronted with errors from the past that could have been avoided but because of a lot of selfishness and financial interest they decided to play with the public.”
Jaksche and Zabel rode together, their paths crossing for two years in 1999 and 2000 at the German squad Team Telekom. Jaksche departed at the start of 2001 in order to link up with Manolo Saiz at ONCE but he remembers Zabel’s first confession in 2007.
“To be honest I just thought how the fuck did he learn to cry? It was incredible. I didn’t get it. From knowing him I knew that it wasn’t true so it was like a German nomination for the Oscars for best actor.”
“I had a feeling that I was seen as the guy who needed to take drugs all during his career and that Zabel and Aldag were the guys who took it just one or two times and then didn’t want to take it anymore. It gave the perception that I had no talent and that I was a drug addict.”
Now back studying at university, Jaksche is in a different place to the one he found himself in during 2006. Along with casting a critical eye over the UCI’s track record and behaviour, he has testified as a witness in the Puerto trial. He still keeps up to date on the relevant news within the sport and has watched as a number of former colleagues have split between three paths: some telling nothing but the truth, some telling a portion of the truth and some telling nothing more than the same old lies. A case highlighted perhaps by Zabel’s treatment at the hands of the Katusha management.
“You always have to try and understand the other person’s situation,” Jaksche says, having been asked about the grandest confession of all within cycling.
“Perhaps Lance Armstrong could have helped a bit more, for himself and for cycling, by being a bit more honest. But things for him are a lot bigger as there could be more legal problems for him. I didn’t have to face legal problems so I can understand his behaviour.”
“We probably shouldn’t expect something from Lance what none of us would probably do.”