Endgame for Bjarne Riis?

Denis Doyle

News stories breaking in Denmark this morning as the danish edition of Tyler Hamilton's "The Secret Race" goes on sale spell bad news for Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank team-owner Bjarne Riis

While much of the basic allegations were in the original version of The Secret Race", Hamilton is now expanding on details of the goings on at CSC back in 2002-2003 when he was brought in as teamleader for Riis's team. The gist of it seems to be that while the team as a whole was touted as a clean team and there was no team-program of doping, Riis privately encouraged Hamilton to seek out Spanish blood-doping expert Eufemiano Fuentes to set up a program of preparation that included blood-transfusions. Hamilton started this in February of 2002.

Hamilton also claims that Riis and him had running discussions about it, coordinating his racing program with the transfusion program. These discussions were allegedly held in private, away from other members of the team, as the two met up at races and trainingcamps during the season. They were careful to avoid talking about it over the phone as it was a nervous period with team doping programs coming under police scrutiny.

Bjarne Riis has consistently denied to comment on any of the content in Hamilton's book since it's release. One of the few statements he has given is that he doesn't know Fuentes, nor has he ever met him. This is now coming under special spotlight as Hamilton says that he knows for a fact that the two did meet at least once. This was supposed to have taken place in a hotel in Spain after the Vuelta a Pais Vasco as Riis requested to accompany Hamilton on his meeting with Fuentes. Tyler agreed to this not thinking it would present a problem. After the meeting he found however that Fuentes was not thrilled with it. Exactly why it was a problem is unclear, presumably Fuentes wanted to keep things as compartmentalized as possible to avoid potential problems, much the same strategy as Ferrari seems to have employed to maintain secrecy.

Hamilton is also pointing to a systematic abuse of TUEs (therapeutic use exemptions) by the team-doctors at CSC. Cortisone was systematically prescribed as a recovery product with made up injuries listed as reasons. Hamilton mentions how he had to try and remember every time he went to doping control what particular injury was listed at that particular time, often times forgetting what it was. The doctor in charge, Joost de Maeseneer denies this practice, saying riders were treated with cortisone at times but only for legitimate injuries. He also strongly insists he and the medical team were never involved in anything forbidden but instead fought for a clean cycling. His statement about his history in this respect does ring true in many ways.

Riis is now in a precarious situation as he will sooner or later have to respond to some of this. The Danish cycling federation are also quite clearly running out of patience, even though the Riis Cycling team is the biggest international asset to Danish cycling. Taking down Riis almost certainly means an end to having a top level Danish team so it will be interesting to see how vigorously they pursue this. Most likely the coming weeks will determine not only the future of Riis in the sport but perhaps also the survival of Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank? Unless more damning details come out about Riis involvement in doping after the 2007 confession it's unlikely that the Saxo Bank sponsors will stop supporting him as they have stood firmly behind him in the past. The reaction of the Danish federation and possibly the UCI presents a bigger problem, especially in the upcoming license hearings that will have a big impact on the teams financial situation. How much can Riis take before he cuts his losses?

Below are the links to some of the danish articles and to a video interview with Hamilton that also includes some damning descriptions of new co-sponsor Oleg Tinkov who was the owner of the team where Hamilton made his return after being banned.

Video

CSC doctors wrote faked prescriptions / Reply: "We always worked clean"

DCU (Danish cycling federation) "One more lie and Riis is done"

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