DONORATICO, Italy (VN) — Cold rain and wind only added to the blow the Dutch teams felt at Tirreno-Adriatico on Wednesday as they tried to get their footing after the cycling-crazed nation’s top star of the 2000s was poised to confess his doping history. In the wake of several confessions at home, Michael Boogerd’s admission this week gave them little to smile about.
“We don’t know when it will stop,” Blanco sports director Nico Verhoeven told VeloNews. “I don’t know if we are now at that point where it’s become good and we can start to go forward.”
Boogerd was Rabobank’s star, but has confessed that drugs fueled his training and his wins. In an interview to air Wednesday night on NOS Sport television, he admitted he doped from 1997 to 2007 with EPO, blood transfusions, and cortisones. It is assumed Boogerd already spoke to the national anti-doping agency. He may speak to federation’s amnesty committee in the coming days.
Verhoeven had reason to be down. Dutch bank Rabobank pulled its sponsorship of the team after 17 years. Its team had suffered several blows over the years and the Lance Armstrong scandal, with the confession of former rider Levi Leipheimer, became too much. The team only continues, now known as Blanco, because Rabobank agreed to help it through 2013 as it searches for a sponsor.
“We were lucky we have money for one more year. The mentality had already changed, so it was a shock that Rabobank stopped its sponsorship. The journalists were pushing, and maybe they were right to do so, and then Rabobank pulled out,” said Verhoeven. “Each of these new stories hurt. That’s why we are talking to the doping authorities, so we can make it clear and [be transparent].”
The news also worried Dutch team Vacansoleil-DCM. Though the team formed only after Boogerd retired, his confession affects its search for renewed sponsorship for 2014 and beyond.
“The big sponsors think cycling is better now. This is not reason for them to stop cycling,” director Michel Cornelisse told VeloNews. “I really believe cycling’s [different] now. You see Barry Markus, Wout Poels … very young riders who can compete directly against the others, so cycling is cleaner now. … I tell the guys, when they come to your home for testing, give them a cup of coffee became it’s thanks to those guys that you can make it to the top now.”
Marc Reef, director for Argos-Shimano, said that his team sponsors understand the situation. However, he added that it might not be the same for the public or for the potential backers of rival Dutch teams.
“For cycling in general, the confession is not good. In The Netherlands, people on the street yell ‘doper’ when they see our riders training. Even at the amateurs or cyclo-tourists. That’s the atmosphere now,” Reef told VeloNews. “Argos and Shimano see how we are working. They want to continue with our team. Maybe it’s hard for team Blanco, but the only thing they can do is prove they are clean. They are riding well and doing a good job.”
The situation may become worse before it improves for Blanco. Journalists may increase pressure on director Erik Dekker, who rode from 1992 to 2006, the same period as Boogerd.
Dekker refused to comment on the situation this morning when approached by VeloNews. By April 1 he must tell all with anti-doping authorities or potentially face tougher sanctions according a pact by the Dutch teams.
“All I know is that when the journalists ask, they will try to get it out,” Verhoeven added. “If they don’t have anything, they can’t do it.”
Damp and cold reaction at Paris-Nice
CHATEL-GUYON, France (VN) — In France, reaction was as damp as the cold rain falling on the Blanco team bus before the start of the third stage at Paris-Nice.
Robert Gesink, Blanco’s star rider, said Boogerd’s revelations should not come as a big surprise.
“I don’t think people will be surprised about this confession,” Boogerd said Wednesday before signing in. “If someone did something, it’s good to come clean, but I think people have had enough of these confessions. We were shocked when the Armstrong stuff came out. Now it’s the same story. I hope it can end soon so we can talk about racing today.”
That’s unlikely to happen any time soon as Dutch cycling continues to churn with doping revelations.
Thomas Dekker, a former Rabobank rider currently with Garmin-Sharp, has vowed to work with Dutch cycling federation officials to shine a light on the dark years of the former Rabobank team.
Following the revelations that came out of the U.S. Anti-doping Agency case involving American riders, the Dutch cycling federation was quick to pick up the baton.
In fact, the Dutch cycling community has come together to work out an amnesty program involving all three major Dutch teams — Blanco, Vacansoleil, and Argos — as well as former and current Dutch riders still racing or working as sport directors.
Under the pact, Dutch riders and staffers have until April 1 to come clean on their respective pasts. Riders or staffers who confess to doping practices prior to 2008 will be issued six-month bans and fined two months’ wages. More severe bans of up to four years would be imposed for those who don’t confess during the amnesty window, but are later exposed.
Whether that plan will stand up to cycling’s world governing body, the UCI, or the World Anti-Doping Agency remains to be seen, however, but proponents say it’s one way to help turn the page on the EPO era.
Louis Delahaije, a Blanco trainer who worked with Rabobank beginning in 2004, said Wednesday that the revelations over the past few months have been a surprise for everyone.
“It was a surprise to me that doping was such a large scale, both in cycling and on this team,” he told VeloNews. “In the last four or five months, there has been so much news on this topic. It was not a big surprise in Holland that Boogerd would confess.”
Delahaije, who now works as one of the top managers for Blanco, said he did not realize the Rabobank riders were doping to such an extent when he was working as a trainer.
“It would be easier to see [the impacts of doping] today than in those days. Now we have power meters and you could see the big jumps in performance,” he said. “I didn’t have the data and it was difficult to see it. You can boost yourself, but if there are 40 or 50 other guys doing the same thing before Liège or the Tour, you cannot see it.”
Rabobank has paid out its commitments through 2013, allowing the team’s current management to pay riders for the season and to try to find a new sponsor. Most of the former management has left the team, including former director and manager Erik Breukink, who exited last season.
“These stories certainly do not make [looking for a sponsor] any easier,” Delahaije said. “We are looking not only within the Netherlands, but also internationally. Our riders today have nothing to do with these stories.”