MADRID (VN) — Andy Rihs, the owner of the former Phonak team rocked by scandal, insists he did not realize riders on his team were doping.
In a statement released by his personal secretary to VeloNews on Thursday in the wake of Tyler Hamilton’s testimony in the ongoing Operación Puerto trial this week, the Swiss millionaire said he took Hamilton’s word that he was not involved in blood doping in 2004.
“Mr. Rihs can inform you that Tyler swore to him by the honor of his wife, his sister, God (or whoever) that he had never doped and never had blood transfusions,” the statement read. “So he clearly lied to Mr. Rihs all the time, and consequently Mr. Rihs does not believe him anything anymore.”
Hamilton testified Tuesday via videoconference that several of his then-Phonak teammates were working with Puerto ringleader Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes.
Under oath, he outlined a clandestine trip to receive transfusions from Fuentes in a Madrid hotel ahead of the 2004 Dauphiné Libéré with teammates Santí Perez, Enrique Gutierrez and Óscar Sevilla, along with former Phonak sport director Alvaro Pino.
On Thursday, Gutierrez, known as “the Buffalo” and who finished second to Ivan Basso in the 2006 Giro d’Italia, told MARCA he was not on the trip to Madrid but admitted he worked with Fuentes until 2006.
Hamilton also testified that a Phonak team doctor helped him re-inject his own blood during the 2004 Tour de France. Hamilton described how the doctor was “doing a favor” because there were too many journalists hanging around the hotel for Fuentes to conduct the transfusion himself. This was the blood transfusion “gone bad,” and Hamilton described how his urine turned black as his body reacted to the spoiled blood injection.
Hamilton later tested positive for homologous blood doping during the 2004 Vuelta a España and vehemently denied it at the time.
Rihs, who owned the Phonak cycling team from 2000-2006, was originally one of Hamilton’s staunchest supporters.
The former Olympic champion has since revealed that he doped throughout much of his professional career. Hamilton began working with Fuentes in 2002, he claims on the recommendation of former CSC team manager Bjarne Riis.
Hamilton’s relationship with Fuentes continued when he moved to Phonak in 2004. The American testified that he had up to 15 transfusions with Fuentes during three seasons.
Phonak was rocked by doping scandals, with several riders testing positive for EPO and other banned substances. Among the top cases were Perez’s blood doping positive in late 2004, as well as Oscar Camenzind for EPO in 2004, and Puerto links to Gutiérrez and Santiago Botero in 2006.
The team collapsed in the wake of the Floyd Landis doping scandal at the 2006 Tour.
Rihs, according to his statement to VeloNews on Thursday, vows that he did not know that riders were doping within the team.
“Mr. Rihs has been totally against doping from the beginning of the Phonak team,” the statement reads. “He did not know that doping was going on in the team, and when he found out, he was consequent (sic) and closed down the team.”
That is in sharp contrast to allegations leveled by Landis, who told The Wall Street Journal in 2010 that Rihs was aware of Landis’ doping practices and even helped fund them in 2006.
Upon publication of that story, Rihs vehemently denied Landis’ claims.
Rihs is currently on vacation and was not available for further comment to VeloNews.
Rihs has since purchased ownership in the BMC Racing Team, where former Phonak sport director John Lelangue is the lead director and Jim Ochowicz, who was a paid consultant at Phonak, is the general manager.