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]