Drug obsession a myth says doc

Jan Ullrich's team doctor, Lothar Heinrich, on Sunday explained why his medical box contains around

Jan Ullrich’s team doctor, Lothar Heinrich, on Sunday explained why his medical box contains around

PICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE T-Mobile team doctor Lothar Heinrich on Sunday branded as “stupid” the suggestion that foreign teams at the Tour de France exist in a culture of hypochondria and medical dependency, and that this, in turn, could be an indicator of widespread doping. Heinrich was reacting to a report in French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche (JDD) which revealed that 11 non-French teams requested clearance to import an average of 80 different products for use at the Tour. Although by definition these products must be legal, sources quoted by the JDD suggested that ulterior motives may lie behind requests for certain prescription medicines. Approached by procycling on Sunday, Heinrich admitted that he had not yet read the JDD report. Asked, however, whether the figure of 80 seemed extravagant, alarming or perhaps even inaccurate, he responded with a shake of the head. “That is what I would expect,” Heinrich affirmed. “It is more or less the number we have at T-Mobile. If it sounds like a lot at first, consider that the same product can come in several different commercialised versions. Each version counts as a different product, and riders of different nationalities often use different versions of the same drug. Some teams will also ask for authorisation for more products than they use. “Now, at T-Mobile, we have a specialist who advises us on homeopathic remedies,” Heinrich continued. “Homeopathy treatments are often based on a mixture of different products, so some teams have whole boxes of these remedies. There are various vitamins, too, and certain riders want them enriched with obscure minerals. At T-Mobile, we have a chef, Walter Groetzing, who always tries to make sure our riders have everything they need in their food. Sleeping tablets are also necessary: riders’ bodies are on such a high at the Tour, the stress is so great that it’s very difficult to sleep. If you do sleep, it’s difficult to rest; if you don’t rest, then, it’s hard to be competitive.” All teams competing at the Tour de France are obliged by French law to submit formal requests to the French Agency of Sanitary Safety of Health Products (AFSSAP) to bring any prescription medicines onto French soil. Four foreign teams at the Tour reportedly failed to satisfy this condition this year, but will only face action if customs officers perform spot-checks at the Tour. Requests to the AFSSAP cover a three-month period. Heinrich filled out one application prior to Paris-Nice and a different, more exhaustive, list for T-Mobile at the Tour de France. According to Heinrich, the Festina scandal in 1998 marked a watershed not only in the war on doping, but in the way all medicines are administered and policed in France. “Since 1998, it has become very common for the team vehicles to be pulled over and searched at motorway services or toll booths. This has happened to us several times this year. “I insist that all of our riders tell me exactly what medicines they have in their possession,” Heinrich went on to explain. “I can’t be 100% sure if a T-Mobile rider has aspirin tablets or some other, everyday medicine I don’t know about, but generally I know about and must approve everything. These days we probably have fewer products than we did 10 years ago. Moreover, a significant proportion is only for emergencies: last year we took home more than half of the products we brought to the Tour.” Heinrich considers it “surprising”, although not inexplicably so, that one team reportedly has a stock of 155 different medicines on the Tour. The presence in some teams’ luggage of anti-amnesia pills and drugs to detoxify the liver, he says, could be attributable to the private needs of soigneurs or other team personnel. “On the whole,” Heinrich concluded, “I would say that to suggest that there is a culture of medical dependency in the peloton, based on the statistic that foreign teams bring on average 80 different products to the Tour, is stupid. It’s akin to going into a hospital, seeing the number of products they have and assuming that everyone in the building is a drug addict.”