Erik Zabel has admitted to briefly participating in the Telekom team’s doping programme in 1996, as
Cycle racing’s code of silence on doping issues appears to be falling apart. The latest evidence came today with confessions from former Telekom riders Rolf Aldag and Erik Zabel at a press conference at T-Mobile’s corporate headquarters in Bonn. Aldag rode for the team from 1995 to 2002 and is T-Mobile’s current sporting director while six-time Tour de France Green Jersey winner Zabel – now riding for Milram – remains one of the sport’s leading stars. The whistle in the Telekom affair was initially blown several weeks ago by former team soigneur Jef d’Hont in a book detailing a highly sophisticated doping programme overseen by doctors Andreas Schmid and Lothar Heinrich. The doctors who worked for Freiburg university have now been sacked and their former employers have promised a thorough investigation into the activities of the university’s sports medicine department. Other former Telekom team riders Bert Dietz and Christian Henn have also corroborated d’Hont’s story by making their own confessions. Today, it was Zabel and Aldag’s turn. Zabel admitted using EPO under the team’s direction in 1996 – a year in which he won the Tour de France Green Jersey. “I lied and I’m sorry,” said the German who at times appeared close to tears. “It was a one-off test and then at the end of the first week I stopped because I had substantial problems with side-effects. “I told my employer Gianluigi Stanga and the Milram bosses that I was going to make a statement about my past today,” he said. “I don’t know what will happen to me in future, but I felt that it was time to tell the truth about what happened in the past.” Rolf Aldag, meanwhile, confessed to a much greater involvement in the doping programme, participating from 1995 to 2002. “Before the Tour de France in 1995 I began using EPO and continued using it,” he said. “I began to have a guilty conscience in 1997 when I used to have to get up at 5am to measure my haematocrit levels so I wouldn’t get caught. In 2002 I decided to put a line under it, as it was clear to me what I was doing was life-threatening. I did it because I though I could get away with it. It was wrong and I apologize for it.” This week the T-Mobile company had clearly decided enough was enough, with damaging allegations and confessions coming thick and fast. Today’s press conference appears to have been an attempt to come clean, limit the damage and move on. At the same press conference Christian Frommert, director of sponsorship communication at Deustche Telekom said the company would continue its cycling sponsorship programme. “We had two possibilities,” he said. “Either to pull the plug on the sponsorship programme or to shape a change in cycling. That is what we set out to do when we re-launched the team last September. We are committed to the contract we have until 2010.” However, if Deutsche Telekom is hoping that a line can soon be drawn under the affair, the confessions by Zabel and Aldag can only serve to turn the spotlight towards its most famous ever rider. Yet despite being specifically named by d’Hont as a participant in the doping programme as well as having been directly implicated in the Operacion Puerto investigation, Jan Ullrich continues to protest his innocence. Meanwhile Bjarne Riis, the 1996 Tour winner for Telekom, has already dismissed d’Hont’s book – in which he too is accused of doping – as the work of a man attempting to make money from the past. The code of silence clearly still runs deep, but just how deep could well be seen over the next few days.