One of the top cyclists of the past 15 years, Erik Zabel of Germany, admitted on Thursday that he had taken the banned blood-boosting drug erythropoietin (EPO) while competing for German team Telekom in 1996.
“I took EPO in 1996 but I stopped taking it after a week because of secondary effects,” a visibly emotional Zabel told a press conference. “It was my only experience with doping in my whole career.”
The Telekom team was a major force in 1996, when one of its riders, Bjarne Riis of Denmark, won the Tour de France.
Zabel, one of the world’s leading sprinters, said he was unsure what the future held for him at his current team, Milram of Italy, but that he had decided he wanted to come clean.
“I don’t know what is going to happen to me in the future but the time had come to tell the truth about the past,” he said.
Zabel, 36, was a silver medallist in the 2006 world championships and has finished top of the points classification in the Tour de France six times.
Erythropoietin, stimulates the production of red blood cells, increasing oxygen-carrying capacity and therefore improving endurance.
Zabel’s former Telekom colleague and the current manager of the T-Mobile team which succeeded Telekom, Rolf Aldag, confessed at the same press conference that he had taken doping products between 1995 and 2002.
Aldag admitted he had lied in the past when he had denied doping.
“I am sorry, I lied to the press and the TV because I said to myself I would not be caught. “In 1994, I discussed with several teammates what was happening in cycling and I decided to actively seek out doping products. I began taking EPO in 1995.
“I began to get a bad conscience in 1997 when I had to get up at 5:00 a.m. to measure my haematocrit levels so that I wouldn’t get caught,” Aldag said.
Despite the revelations, Aldag will keep his job at T-Mobile. Team boss Bob Stapleton said he had rejected Aldag’s offer to resign.
“We want to keep working with him,” Stapleton said.
Three other former Telekom riders – Bert Dietz, Christian Henn and Udo Bölts – admitted this week they had taken drugs.
T-Mobile this month suspended two of its doctors over allegations that they administered banned substances while working for Telekom in the 1990s.
Zabel was a key teammate at Telekom of Jan Ullrich, who in 1997 became the first German to win the Tour de France.
Ullrich was thrown out of last year’s Tour over doping allegations and was then sacked by T-Mobile. He announced his retirement in February.