Riis’ pieces

July 12, 2013

It appears more and more pieces of the puzzle are coming together with regards to Bjarne Riis, with now Rasmussen stating that Riis was aware of the doping going on at his team while Rasmussen was a rider in 2001 and 2002. Together with the statements from Jaksche and Hamilton in the past few years, it seems the net is slowly closing.

It brought back memories for me, since I was negotiating our first sponsorship agreement with Riis’ team during the period Rasmussen is describing. In fact, I remember thinking Rasmussen was a rider with a lot of potential on that team, having recently switched from mountain biking and making quite an impact in 2002 already.

Ironically, one of the reasons we decided to sign the deal was that we figured the trio of all-American hero Hamilton, French darling Jalabert and up-and-coming climber Rasmussen was a combination you could always use in your promotion – whether they won or not. Looking back now, what a lethal cocktail that turned out to be.

A few days after we signed the deal, Jalabert retired. So other than a Cervélo P3 rebadged as a Look in the 2002 Tour, he never rode our bikes. A few days after that, Rasmussen also left the team and went to Rabobank.

My memory is notoriously bad, but I do remember asking the team for an explanation because I was disappointed to see him leave (remember, this is 2002). They told me they had decided to let him go because he was doing things that the team didn’t agree with, that he was a liability. While they didn’t spell it out, it was pretty clear to me what that meant.

I asked them how letting him go to Rabobank would solve anything in the bigger picture (instead of just for the team), and if they shouldn’t warn other teams about a rider like that. They said they had told Rabobank, but that the Dutch didn’t care. I now shake my head, but at the time I thought “Phew, looks like we chose the right team”.

So in a twisted way, Rasmussen is probably right, the team did know what he was up to. The question is, what did the team do with that information. At the time, I saw the whole episode as a positive sign, it appeared the team was taking the right stance by saying goodbye to the rider. I have since wondered what the whole story was, and if the “things the team didn’t agree with” was the simple act of doping, or the methods, or the facilitators.

Aside from all the business reasons to be in pro cycling, one of my personal reasons to sponsor a team was actually that I was very curious about doping, about whether most riders were doping or most weren’t.

As a fan, I had always wondered. It’s easy to draw conclusions in retrospect, but at the time I figured all hypotheses were equally plausible – how do you see the difference between a group where almost nobody cheats and a group where almost all do? You really only see riders in relation to those around them. Comparing with different eras, when equipment, nutrition and other knowledge was different, remains tricky. I mean, we’re all faster than Maurice Garin, so what does that prove?

I figured that by being a sponsor, I would see something either way. It’s not that I expected to be asked to hold the IV bag if doping was occurring, but thought I’d surely see something while staying in the team hotel from time to time. That was a bit naive, and I never saw anything; no suspicious behavior, no strange packages, no hurriedly closed doors, nothing. I guess hiding your illicit activities in plain sight in busy hotels isn’t that difficult.

[Just to be clear, since several people seem to read between the lines stuff I didn’t intend, I wasn’t thinking for a moment about David Walsh when I wrote this last paragraph]

15 Responses to “Riis’ pieces”

  1. John Says:

    Does that last sentence mean you think that there is the POTENTIAL (not saying that they are doing anything) but that Team Sky could be doing something under David Walsh’s nose?


    • I have no reason to assume anything in that particular case. All I can say is that in general, of course there is the potential a rider dopes without the team manager knowing, without the doctor knowing, without the journalist knowing and without the sponsor knowing. There is also the potential for a rider to dope with some of the above knowing.

      Nobody can monitor anybody 24/7 nor would I want to live in a world like that. Of course you can decrease the chances of not knowing by doing internal tests and in more positive ways (creating the right atmosphere, education, etc), but at the same time, somebody who wants to hide his activities is going to try to stay clear of the people trying to find him out, isn’t he?

      • John Says:

        I would completely agree with you – though that would (I assume) become more difficult in a Grand Tour where (I would imagine) you’d have to get away from the hotel to do such doping.
        Fingers crossed its happening less and less. The more tests – and unannounced tests that happen, and the more accurately that the scientists can test for banned substances, the better


  2. When I was a first-time reporter at the Tour, we were often hanging out at team hotels late, hoping for interviews and also snooping for any hints of doping. I never saw any evidence in riders’ rooms. The only thing that was out of the ordinary was when I hitched a ride to Courcheval with a USPS team guy who was driving the team’s old camper from Bardonecchia, Italy into France. We took some winding back roads that took us to an isolated checkpoint at the French border guarded by just two sleepy soldiers who asked for some Tour souvenirs and then waved us through without an inspection. Of course, I later read about how the camper was used. And then there was Actovegin…

  3. marty mantle Says:

    didnt CSC launch your brand into the stratospheric heights it now enjoys? think of all the cash Bjarne made you guys..dont be such an ingrate.


    • Funny you would say that.
      1) Only people with a bad grasp of history would think CSC launched our brand into the stratosphere. Our fastest growth was prior to sponsoring CSC. In fact, growth in year 1 of our CSC sponsorship was zero, that’s how well it worked back then. It grew after that though, that’s definitely true.
      2) Maybe you’re reading different things into this post that I wrote into it. Doesn’t appear to be that bad a post for Riis.
      3) Even so, what does it matter? Is this your paid version of the omerta? If somebody makes you money, you can never say anything bad about them? Yeah, that’s what we want, riders who will never speak out about their team managers because they were paid by them. Nice one.
      4) The “making money” bit is pretty relative, we lost more on two years of CTT than we ever made during six years of CSC. Which is quite OK, business is a sport for grown-ups and we make our own decisions.

  4. steve Says:

    I think your insights and observations are really interesting and the fact that you were so close to the fire is awesome. I think that the history of the sport would make one believe that there’s always, always something going on. Whatever Sky is doing (and I really hope it’s just training camps in Tenerife) we won’t know for 20 years. They’re cutting edge, ahead of the curve and totally into the science. If it’s that stuff we all read about that converts fast twitch to slow twitch or some other new thing, it was hard to watch Froome leave everyone on Ax3 and then see Porte solo away after hammering tempo.

  5. Friso Says:

    I think Rasmussen was a liability in the sense that he was pushing too far. Too much risk of getting caught. Great insight BTW.


  6. Ax3 was one thing, the ITT results another. But today when Froome sat up and let the Team Saxo break go, well that was quite interesting as well. Froome should have been on that break but maybe he couldn’t?


  7. Aren’t you glad you didn’t get smeared by that trio ?

    With phat the rat claiming he is the only solution to Cycling’s future , we the fans , will have another 4 years of the Racers manouvering through the loopholes that have already been discovered , to evade detection by UCI !

    Saw that a TV Network has just ticker taped phat’s admission that accepting money from Armstrong , ” Might have been a mistake “! Will they ever catch up ?


  8. […] It appears more and more pieces of the puzzle are coming together with regards to Bjarne Riis, with now Rasmussen stating that Riis was aware of the doping going on at his team while Rasmussen was …  […]

  9. Hans H. Bærholm Says:

    But Gerard, if you we’re told that Rasmussen was a liability, why didn’t you do something about it? Did you just say to yourself, f*** it it’s not my place to meddle? And if so, whose place is it?
    If we want teams, and riders to be accountable, and journalists to do real journalism instead of asking ‘are you juicing’, then why is a sponsor exempt from blowing the whistle?


    • I definitely don’t think a sponsor is exempt from blowing the whistle, quite the contrary. As I mentioned, it was one of the private reasons why I wanted to sponsor a team, to figure out what really happens. But that rendered nothing.

      However, to blow the whistle, you need some sort of evidence. I was given second-hand information (third-hand really), which I had little reason to doubt, but it was useless. What would you suggest, go out and tell the world that “somebody told me Rasmussen is ‘doing things they don’t like'”? That’s not blowing the whistle, that’s just gossiping. Not even the person who told me this seemed to know what Rasmussen was actually doing. Rasmussen would have sued my socks off and rightly so.

      Would there have been different ways to act on that information? Maybe you’re right and there were, but none which I thought of at the time. One way or another, you need evidence or barring that, maybe you can get your point across on personal credibility. In 2002, I had neither.

      • Hans H. Bærholm Says:

        I agree that the lines are very obscured, and that’s also why I brought it up, although it might sound like I was ragging on you for not doing anything, but it seems to me that it’s a reductive argument to say that there’s silence, or there’s telling the world. I don’t suppose to have a definite answer to what you (or anyone else in said situation) should have done, but I also don’t think that the co founder of a bike supplier being told that Rasmussen moved on and was a liability, is nothing more than gossip.

        Let’s say for the sake of argument that a similar thing transpired involving another team and another bike supplier (or any other sponsor for that matter) right now? Would you recommend silence or some form of action?


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