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Vacansoleil’s ‘NASA doctor’ spoils going away party

  • By Gregor Brown
  • Published Nov. 20, 2013
  • Updated Nov. 20, 2013 at 11:48 AM EDT
Vacansoleil's doctor hoax episode puts an embarrassing tinge on the team's departure from cycling. Photo: BrakeThrough Media

MILAN (VN) — Vacansoleil-DCM ends its run in cycling with a bitter taste after Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad reported this week that the team worked with an unqualified doctor in 2011. Belgian Daniel De Martelaere told team staff he had studied in the United States and had worked at NASA, but proved a hoax.

“He came to us directors at a race and said that he studied in America and worked for NASA. We laughed about it,” director Michel Cornelisse told VeloNews. “We didn’t take him seriously. I think [general manager] Dean Luyckx really saw something was wrong because he didn’t renew his contract.”

According to a report in Het Nieuwsblad, Luyckx hired De Martelaere ahead of the 2011 season. De Martelaere worked with the team’s medical staff for only six months and failed to receive a contract renewal at year-end.

Luyckx did not return calls on Tuesday.

“He was not a doctor with us,” director Hilaire Van Der Schueren told Het Nieuwsblad. “He was a medic who gathered our internal anti-doping controls.”

During that same time, early 2011, Riccardo Riccò nearly died due to a botched self-blood transfusion at home. The Italian, who had signed with Vacansoleil shortly after returning from his two-year EPO CERA ban, survived after a hospital stay and, due to the prior doping case, never raced again. De Martelaere was reportedly dispatched to Italy to check on Riccò after the incident and Vacansoleil released the Italian from its roster.

According to Het Nieuwsblad, De Martelaere also worked with Belgians Thomas De Gendt, Stijn Devolder, and Björn Leukemans.

“I don’t know if he was giving medicine or just taking controls, it was between the riders and doctor,” said Cornelisse. “He was only at two or maybe three races with us. I could tell that he did not know what was going on.”

The riders, according to the Belgian paper, noticed De Martelaere making errors. In June, samples he took at the Tour de Suisse had problems when checked by an actual doctor, sounding an alarm.

Vacansoleil could rightly blame the Belgian Cycling Federation for licensing De Martelaere. President Tom Van Damme said that it made a mistake in doing so.

“We made an administrative error,” Van Damme told the newspaper. “We should have checked the man’s records, in the future we will do so.”

“I’m not sure the blame falls on Dean Luyckx; it seems like one doctor knew another and he got the job,” Cornelisse said. “What’s strange is this all comes out now, over two years later and when the team is closing.”

With Vacansoleil leaving the sport in 2014, Cornelisse said he was close to a job offer with Garmin-Sharp, but that deal failed to materialize. He continues to search. Van Der Schueren is working with Wanty, which signed several Vacansoleil riders, including Leukemans. The stink of the 2011 incident remains, however.

The Belgian federation only found out about the incident earlier this year, according to the president. Police in Ghent began investigating, and were unavailable for comment because the case is still open.

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Gregor Brown

Gregor Brown

Bikes kept Gregor Brown out of trouble growing up in Oklahoma — BMX, freestyle and then watching Greg LeMond's Tour de France wins on CBS television's weekend highlights shows. The drama of the 1998 Tour, however, truly drew him into the fold. With a growing curiosity in European races and lifestyle, he followed his heart and established camp on Lake Como's shores in 2004. Brown has been following the Giro, the Tour and every major race in Europe since 2006. He will tell you it is about the "race within the race" – punching out the news and running to finish – but he loves a proper dinner, un piatto tipico ed un vino della zona.

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