News for January 24, 1997

The Doctors are the villains

The use of erythropoetine (epo) in the racing peleton is now a well known fact. What has gone on in the past and what is the current situation is not known.

Naturally, everyone knows about the heart problems of the dead riders, but who can prove that they came from the use of EPO. Riders hear the stories and think that EPO will help them race harder. They do not sense the enormous risks involved. The doctors of the cycling teams know. But the majority are silent.

The doctors know of the risks and problems of having too thicker blood. They prescribe aspirin as anti-thickening medicine for the problems. EPO users have to take a pill daily. Too high a dose of this has the risk of spontaneous bleeding. "The body has a system of equilibrium. The taking of artificial rubbish disturbs the balance. That is dangerous to life" said doctor Harm Kuipers (a well known former Dutch speedskater) of the University in Maastricht. According to Emile Vrijman of the Dutch Centre for Enquiry into Dope Taking there is little known about the consequences. "Rider taking the drug perceive no changes. That is the danger. We must show the dangers. No intimidation, but just the usual facts have to be given."

UCI powerless over the rumours

The discussion over the use of the forbidden stimulant medicines has been vehement since last week. The recently retired French rider, Gilles Delion broke the absolute silence. In the sport's paper, L'Equipe he declared that all the French teams were involved. According to him, it was abnormal not to use the drugs.

The UCI under the Presidentshop of the Dutchman Hein Verbruggen has called a meeting next Friday of all 18 teams in the highest division. The team doctors are also to attend. Verbruggen reacted carefully when he was confronted with the reports and speculation. He said that the situation was less alarming than the mysterious drugging of riders by the tour soigneurs. He said that the fate of all cycle sport was threatened by its association with EPO.

"What about the skiers? No-one is talking of that" said the marketing man raising his voice. "It is not interesting enough for the media. We stand powerless against the rumour mongering. And there are already tentative conclusion, even though we have no explorations yet. When will it be right. I have no idea. Other sports are faced with the same problem, but there are no words about that. Often, I have the idea that it a race within the media."

At the end of last year, the anti-doping commissioner, the Dutchman Lon Schattenberg, said that the number of positive tests had fallen in 1995, with 34 bad tests out of 4428, or 0.768 per cent. The numbers give cycling the benefit of the doubt.

Verbruggen is realistic enough to know that the numbers are not all that real. "Naturally, there is more than almost one percent using the drugs, that is by my reckoning. How many more than that? Don't ask me, I don't know." said Verbruggen. "Twenty, thirty per cent, no-one knows. I have spoken with the riders, who also don't know. The statements of Delion and Obree are next to me. They are the outspoken statements of frustrated people."

r The UCI will host a meeting of teams and doctors in Geneva on Friday to consider introducing blood testing so that the EPO can be detected. According to Henk Vos, President of the VVBW (union), it is clear that a number of riders, under the spokesmanship of Bugno, have concerns over the UCI meeting."But" he said "On Friday they must discuss where the blood tests fit in. What are they going to do with the blood from the tests? What are they doing with the results. And where is the blood samples going to be examined?

Sort of Cycling News

Steffi Graf earns tennis millions all over the world but still calls Germany home.

She's a holdout among the many European sports stars who have moved their residences abroad in search of kinder weather, glamor, fewer hassles from fans and reporters _ and hefty tax savings.

Graf never joined the exodus. Her father paid with a trial on charges he evaded 19.2 million marks (dlrs 11.7 million) in taxes while managing her income. He faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Steffi Graf, who has not been charged, says she thought about leaving because of the affair but felt too at home in Germany to do it.

Boris Becker, Germany's other tennis idol, and race driver Michael Schumacher have less attachment to a nation where income tax rates can top 50 percent.

Like soccer great Franz Beckenbauer, who took up residence in neighboring Austria years ago, they are part of a diverse line of exiles that includes former Swedish tennis star Bjorn Borg, Welsh golfer Ian Woosnam and Swiss cyclist Tony Rominger.

France's expatriates include former Formula I racer Alain Prost and tennis player Guy Forget, both residents of neighboring Switzerland.

But even Switzerland, famed for low taxes and banking secrecy, isn't a paradise for all big earners: Rominger, one of the world's top cyclists, has defected to Monaco.