Bjarne Riis: "I think Contador will be acquitted."
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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Bjarne Riis: "I think Contador will be acquitted."

by Jered Gruber at 6:06 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Doping
Saxo Bank/SunGard manager supports his star and tells of the doping that marked his own career

The upcoming autobiography on Bjarne Riis is drawing a lot of attention at home in Denmark for the manager of the Saxo Bank/SunGard team. The book, which details the life of Riis, is particularly forthcoming on the doping side of things, and his accounts, while not earth shattering anymore, are still eyebrow raising in terms of the everyday nature, the frankness of the process.

The manager of the Saxo Bank team speaks openly about the doping during his career, but also to put his weight behind the fact that the sport is now clean, and his star signing for 2011 and beyond, is also clean.

"I think Contador will be acquitted. I believe in his innocence, and I am convinced that he is a clean rider. Therefore, I believe the explanation that the detected drug is derived from the Spanish steak. I can see no other explanation," says Riis in a compelling interview with Rasmus Bech from

While other possibilities have certainly been posited for how clenbuterol managed to get into Contador's body, Riis feels that the Spanish steak is at fault. The two communicate regularly, and he's happy to report that Contador is back in training.

"[We talk] once a week, maybe every ten days. Something like that. He's in good spirits and has started training again, so that we have something to work with in the future. The charges have hit hard though."

While the torrid story of Riis's career is rampant with doping across seemingly every phase of it, Riis is happy to say that he directs a clean team and his team races in a mostly clean peloton as well.

"It has cleared up greatly, and I can proudly say that my organization, my team, has been the standard bearer. Cycling has really done a lot about doping, so today, I think it is almost pure. Of course, there will always be black sheep, they exist everywhere, there will always be someone who does it. It cannot be otherwise."

It Wasn't Always That Way...

The interview with Riis makes it clear that doping was not considered wrong by Riis or seemingly anyone else. It was all part of the game.

"Look, it was part of the culture, you know that well. Everyone knew it, even all the journalists in the environment. We riders did not look at it as doping, we saw it not as something forbidden, but a preparation. If you wanted to race for the best results and contracts, there was no way around it. For everyone, it felt like there was no choice, and so I did it too. Therefore, I had no real guilt."

Up to this point, in my experience at least, journalists have never been implicated in the doping story of the Nineties, but according to Riis, it was known by them as well. That one sentence might be cause for some hang up, but the overall point was a feeling that there was no way to avoid taking drugs if one wanted to succeed at the highest level, there was no choice. Yet, Riis argues that it was completely his choice.

"Nobody forced me, there were no requirements, I was not exposed to any pressure. Everything was of my own accord," which seems to go counter with the statement above, but that's really the Catch-22 of the doping history in cycling, isn't it? No one forced the drugs on the riders, they didn't need to, the drugs and the ability to race against the best were more than enough incentive to sell the trip down the toll road. It's a trip that Riis notes cost him between 500,000 and 1,000,000 kroner (133,000 euros) during his career.

Riis's story does not, however, name any other names, and according to Riis, that was completely intentional and a game he did not want to engage in. He feels that their story was not his story to tell.

"The book tells my story, my truth. The aim is not to make others responsible for my actions or put any guilt onto anyone else…The book is not used to point fingers at other people. There are certainly some who will argue that the book lacks something about others, but it is quite deliberate. I have no evidence to tell about others's involvement in doping."

Even if he was willing to talk about others, the former Amstel Gold winner claims that he wouldn't be able to anyway: "We did not talk about it," he says, but he seems to be fairly certain that everyone did it. "…It was said that it was everyone."

Like many have said before him, Riis says it again - the drugs were no replacement for hard work and sacrifice.

"You cannot just dope yourself to victory and success. Training and desire are still essential for success."

Living With Doping

When asked whether it was hard or not to take the drugs, Riis responds in a rather typical manner. It wasn't the EPO and the like that bothered him, it was the first injections, the vitamins.

"The hardest part was actually the very first injection of vitamins and minerals that we got - then I learned to do it myself. Therefore, I had no problems with the first drug injection, it was quite undramatic. There was just something else in the syringe other than vitamins."

As far back as the late Eighties, Riis was already taking cortisone, and in 1993, he began taking EPO. When asked if he continued with other preparations along with the EPO, the answer was virtually, of course.

"Yes, I continued with other drugs. I took the whole package. I tell all about it in the book, I lay out the details, otherwise, it is untrustworthy."

Rasmus Bech asks Riis if he felt like he was living a double life at the time, but Riis firmly denies the feeling. Doping was a simple thing that he did each day, seemingly akin to brushing his teeth.

"I would not call it a double life, moreover, I was not constantly confronted with doping issues. Doping did not fill up all my time, my whole day. It was just one element, a small element. Completely undramatic."

When pressed in that direction again, Riis's response was the same and even more practical. Through most of Riis's words, the overall impression is of something that makes sense. True, it's still not right, but it makes rational sense nonetheless.

"As I said, it was something that filled a minute in my daily life. There was nothing sinister about it - it was not a drug that I took with trembling hands in a dingy side street or backyard. It was something that I did in the bedroom, quietly, just like a diabetes patient taking their syringe. It was completely undramatic."

On the topic of his second wife, Anne Dorthe, and her unhappiness with the doping her husband engaged in, Riis retorted with a laugh, "But I had good arguments to continue." At that point, Riis was the reigning Tour de France champion, so there was little question that he would continue what was working.

Riis wasn't careless or unsafe though, and that was something he promised to his wife.

"I guaranteed to her that I would look after myself. And I did. I've never had any side effects."

Living With Doping Today

It has taken Bjarne Riis a long time to get to the release of this book. From the time of his doping when it was not even considered wrong in his book, to his admission three years ago that he did dope en route to his greatest successes, and finally to this point. It has been a long journey to this point, and at this point, Riis is prepared to look back at his racing years.

"Of course, the book is a reckoning with the past. Only now am I ready to do that, to shake up my own life, and confront not only myself but the world."

When Riis admitted to doping three years ago, he says that it was a difficult decision to come to, and one that he suffered greatly for.

"It was not easy, I can tell you that, and the reaction was violent. But no, I would not turn back the clock. I have not regretted it."

Bech asks Riis if he has any regrets, if there was anything that he would have done differently.

"What can I undo? I thought that I had to race on equal footing with the others, there was no way around it. These were the conditions of my racing years. No one enticed me, it was my own choice…How it was then, so I was - back then. People must either take it or leave it…I am proud of my life, I'm proud of what I have done."



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