Bjarne Riis has claimed that he believes Alberto Contador is clean and will be cleared of any doping offence. The Saxo Bank manager’s comments come as he launches an autobiography detailing his own history of doping as a rider, including cheating to win the 1996 Tour de France.
“I think Contador will be acquitted,” Riis told Politiken. “I believe in his innocence and I am convinced that he is a clean rider. I believe his explanation that the detected drug traces come from the Spanish steak. I can see no other explanation.”
Contador returned an adverse analytical finding for Clenbuterol at the 2010 Tour de France before signing for Riis’ Saxo Bank team. He maintains that the traces of Clenbuterol came from eating contaminated steak brought from Spain during the Tour. Contador is currently awaiting a verdict on his case and Riis explained that he is in regular contact with the rider.
“I speak with him once a week, maybe every 10 days, something like that,” Riis said. “He’s in good spirits, he’s started to train again so we’ll have something to work with, although the charge has hit hard.”
While Riis is prepared to welcome Contador into the fold, another controversial rider will not be joining the Saxo Bank set up for 2011. Riis denied recent rumours linking his team to former Tour de France yellow jersey holder Michael Rasmussen.
“I have seen that there are newspaper reports and rumours that I will present Michael as a new rider,” Riis said to Ekstra Bladet. “There’s been almost no contact and I will not sign Michael Rasmussen for Saxo Bank-Sungard.”
Rasmussen received a two-year suspension after he missed two anti-doping controls carried out by the Danish Cycling Federation and one by the UCI (International Cycling Union) in 2007. He was removed from that year’s Tour de France by his Rabobank squad while leading the race.
“I want to reiterate that I hope Michael gets an opportunity to race again,” Riis said. “He has earned it as he has served his sentence.”
Rasmussen began his career on the road at Riis’ CSC-Tiscali team in 2002, before moving on to join Rabobank.
Riis’ new book details doping past
As well as finalising his roster for next season, Riis has also been putting the finishing touches to his autobiography in recent weeks and the book has just been launched in Denmark.
In 2007, Riis made a very public confession of having doped to win the 1996 Tour de France and, as one would anticipate, the book includes details of his drug use during his career. The Dane began using cortisone in the 1980s and moved on to use EPO for the first time in 1993.
“The hardest part was the very first syringe with vitamins and minerals that we all took,” Riis told Politiken. “I had no problem with the first drug injection. There was just something else in the syringe other than vitamins.”
Riis said that he doped simply because it was part of the milieu in which he was surrounded and that he didn't pose himself any significant ethical questions at the time.
“Look, it was part of the culture, you know that well,” he said. “Everyone knew it, even all the journalists in that environment.
“As riders, we didn’t look on it as doping. We didn’t see it as something forbidden, but rather as preparation, and if you wanted to be in the running for the top positions and contracts, there was no way around it. ‘Everybody’ felt like there was no choice, so I had to do it too. So, I had no real guilt.”
Riis also explained that both his ex-wife Mette and present wife Anne Dorthe were aware of his doping, although he says the latter warned him of its dangers.
“We were two adults who spoke about it calmly,” Riis said. “But I guaranteed her that I would look after myself and I did. I’ve never had any side effects.”
In his autobiography, Riis outlines the doping programme he followed during the 1990s, which he described to Politiken as “the full package.” However, he was adamant that the story is his and his alone
“The book will tell my story, my truth,” he said. “I’m not aiming to make others responsible for my actions or place guilt on others. Nobody forced me, there were no requirements, I was not put under any pressure. It was my own choice.
“There are certainly some people who will argue that the book lacks some information about ‘all the others.’ But that is quite deliberate. It’s not a gossip book.”
Riis retired from racing in 1999 and became manager of what is now Saxo Bank-Sungard. In 2007, he confessed to having doped in the 1990s along with a number of his former teammates from Team Telekom. Riis was manager of CSC in 2006 when his rider Ivan Basso was unable to start that year’s Tour de France due to his involvement in Operacion Puerto.
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Barry Ryan is European Editor at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.