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Doping in the low countries: a tale of two cultures

I don’t know what the perception is internationally but we have a mean doping storm going on here in Holland. As you know Rabobank (a 17 year sponsor of Dutch cycling on all levels) pulled the plug on the men’s elite team in the wake of the Armstrong collision with Usada. The end of an era but also the beginning of a severe outbreak of swamp gas. The public opinion and the press turned strongly against doping in general and dopers at the Rabobank team in particular. After years of ridiculing the squad for the meagre results the critics effortlessly turned to condemning the same riders for doping. Then it got really interesting as things got brewing. A newspaper decided to ask 50 pro’s from the doping era outright whether they doped or not (they scored a No 50 times…). That could have been it but then there was the initiative from the Dutch cycling Union and the three Dutch WT teams for a strong anti-doping charter. In it all staff of the teams are required to answer a few questions about doping in their past. Any activity in that area before 2008 will be sanctioned with a 6month ban but with the possibility to return to the job afterwards. Doping after 2008 will get you fired anyhow. Any proof of doping after lying in the document would get you fired too. You can imagine that this stirred some serious concern in the Dutch cycling scene. The riders Union took a stance against it for they were not consulted and did not think it was legally sound. In the end only Vacansoleil and Rabobank (remember: both looking to land sponsor money in 2014) signed the charter and Argos-Shimano refrained from it citing it was too much looking to the past and too little to the future.

Somehow the whole situation got the talking going. At first some anonymous riders testified about doping use in the Rabobank team right in their first years. Later the ball started really rolling with riders like Danny Nelissen en Marc Lotz filling in some of the details. Recently Thomas Dekker jumped on the bandwagon and proclaimed that he would meet the Dutch doping agency soon to tell everything (names, suppliers, fellow users, the lot). Also, the focus shifted from only the Rabobank to all Dutch teams from days yore and testimonies about PDM and BankGiroLoterij surfaced. The first about the tour of 1987 and in the second case with a pretty detailed account by Rudy Kemna (Argos-Shimona team-manager, he imposed a 6 month ban on himself btw). As it is the pressure is high on the high-profile Dutch riders of the last 20 years but they keep telling the old story. No doping in their career. Meanwhile cycling lost any shred of dignity in the public eye here in the Netherlands so it remains to be seen how things will progress. Are we in for the German scenario with media and sponsors leaving the sport or is there real hope that things will really change after all? No way to tell, but I wouldn’t want to be a Dutch cycling team looking for sponsors right now.

It strongly depends on the way this Dutch anti-doping ripple will spread out internationally. What better place to start than with our Southern neighbors, the Belgians. Now, this is where the two cultures bit really comes into play. The water is flat as a mirror there. When pressed esteemed Belgian team owners comment that they think the Dutch anti-doping charter is plain silly. Otherwise only complete silence. It gets even worse when you follow the Belgian reporting on the stories erupting in Holland. They are copied gleefully but remarkably any reference to Belgian riders, team-managers and docters just disappears. Rudy Kemna for example clearly names a Belgian team-manager as the source behind doping in his team. But no mention of him in the Belgian press. Also Thomas Dekker said something about ‘supposed’ docters justification for taking substances present on the forbidden list during his comeback year at a Belgian pro-squad but no mention of that too. Comparable to the Carlos Barredo story. No attention whatsoever for the fact that his blood values were off during his years riding for a Belgian team (on the other hand, the Dutch media brought it as a Rabobank rider caught doping).

In short, interesting times here in the Netherlands. I wonder how much more will hit the surface after the spicy stuff ignites. Will it spread to other countries or sports or will it just annihilate Dutch cycling? Just thought you might like to know a little more about what’s going on. Plus, I’m interested in your take. Hope you’ll not be mad for the fact that you’ll have to google to find more on the things I mention. Filling in all the blanks would have prevented me from writing anything at all. Oh, and Dutch readers, feel free to chime in with your bits/perceptions. This is just my take on it all.

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