This weekend a story appeared in one of Denmarks major morning newspapers "Berlingske Tidene" It contains some quotes from the Chief of Medicine at Bispebjerg Hospital who formerly employed Rasmus Damsgaard and administered the CSC anti-dopingprogram. He presents a not very flattering picture of why the hospital is no longer running the program and casts some doubt over the independence of Damsgaard.
I have translated the article in it's length below for you to read for yourselves. I am not sure what to make of it personally. At the least it points to the problematic nature of the team-financed AD-programs and the need for the UCI passport-program to become operational sooner rather than later.
I must say that the link to a major, goverment run, hospital played a large part in establishing a trust in the independence of the program. With a profit-driven company, whose sole source of income comes from the teams, doing the testing wherein lies their motivation to zealously test the riders? For Bispebjerg the 500.000€ (?) was a small amount in their budget that probably covered their expenses but didn't produce a significant surplus. Can the same be said for a small company like Damsgaards?
Some issues should be pointed out. The journalist Caruso has been critizised for over-zealous reporting on CSC in the past. Some info is somewhat outdated and not well explained.
Specifically the question of whether LA is included in the Astana testing-program should be resolved by now, although I must admit I'm personally not clear on what is what here dispite actively searching for that info. I can't really see a reason for Belhage to misrepresent the facts in this case, other than professional jealousy or possibly disappointment at no longer being part of the program.
Denmark is the world leader in combating doping. It has been become so thanks to doping researcher Rasmus Damgaard, who has stood as independent controller of the world's best cyclingteams - Bjarne Riis' Team CSC Saxo Bank and Astana cycling team with the seven times Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong. Berlingske can today reveal that the doping hunter has let himself get seduced by millions and an expensive bike - a 'gift' from Bjarne Riis.
By Jesper Dahl Caruso
Last updated Saturday, 24 January 2009, 20:37
In December Chief of medicine Bo Belhage visited his colleague, Rasmus Damsgaard, in his home in Kongens Lyngby north of Copenhagen. In Belhages mind space,he harboured a nasty suspicion.
The two doctors have together developed the world's best anti-doping program, based on systematic blood and urine tests of some of the world's best cyclists. Last year's Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre, was part of this program. So are the top five favorites for this summers Tour de France, brothers Andy and Frank Schleck from Team CSC Saxo Bank and the three- Astana-cyclists, Alberto Contador, Lance Armstrong and Andreas Klöden.
All these cyclists deliver negative doping tests and yet they are still winning some of the world's biggest races in front of riders, who are subsequently disqualified for abuse of doping. And it is here, Bo Belhages doubts and suspicions come into play. As Rasmus Damsgaard’s boss, and chief of medicine and research director at Bispebjerg Hospital, he has the overall responsibility to make sure the hospital's anti-doping program can never be questioned medically or economically.
But in the autumn there were some things that woke the doctor's concern. It emerged that CSC rider Frank Schleck had tried to buy a training program for 60,000 dollars from the Spanish gynecologist, Eufemiano Fuentes, who is notoriously known as the man responsible for one of history's biggest doping scandals “Operación Puerto”.
"It is completely absurd to believe that it is ethically clean. Of course it rung untrue in my ears and made my desire to continue with the most ethical teams in the cycling world smaller. I was a little unsure about whether the ethical standards are as high as when we started"says Bo Belhage today.
Another episode is about American Lance Armstrong comeback in the cycling world. The seventime Tour de France-winner today rides for the kazach Team Astana, which is also a subject of Rasmus Damsgaard’s and Bo Belhages doping program. But Lance Armstrong has his own anti-doping program along with the American doctor Don Catlin and would not (readily, willingly, without further ado)allow himself to be examined by a doctor from Bispebjerg Hospital. That was totally unacceptable to Bo Belhage.
"If we are to participate, and he is to ride for Astana, which we have a contract with, then he must also be checked on our conditions. It can’t be that he is checked on his own conditions. That would be nonsense "said Bo Belhage last autumn to Ritzaus Bureau.
"We must not only see his values - we must also take samples. It should be us who are knocking on his door two o'clock at night and say, 'Lance, now you piss in the pot.' That's it. "
IT WAS EPISODES like these, Bo Belhage went to Lyngby to discuss with Rasmus Damsgaard. But the incidents were, according to Berlingske Tidende overshadowed by details of a conflict of a completely different and more sinister nature.
At Rasmus Damsgaard’s home Bo Belhage spotted a bicycle similar to those CSC riders ride in competition. Such a hand built racebike costs 40-50.000 crowns. Berlingske Tidende can today reveal that the otherwise independent doping researcher Rasmus Damsgaard received the bike as a “gift” from Bjarne Riis. Bo Belhage will not comment on the newspaper's information. Anything to do with Rasmus Damsgaard’s racebike, is met with the same answer:
"I have no comments."
Bo Belhage confirms however that he a few days later - a month ago - withdrew Bispebjerg Hospital from the world's most prestigious anti-doping project. The official reason was that there was a natural contract expiration on 31 December 2008. But Bo Belhage would not renew the contract.
"I do not like to be involved in projects where there is not a full and perfectly streamlined clarity about who does what, when and why. I would not be involved if there was one-Astana rider, who had a free-ride. In that way it would all be muddy and unclear, where it would be discussed who had tested whom, and who were in our program and not. And we could vouch for that Astana riders were in order -except for Lance Armstrong that is”,says Bo Belhage to Berlingske Tidende.
If you are to understand Bo Belhages dilemma fully, it is necessary to go two and a half years back in time to the autumn of 2006. At that time, Rasmus Damsgaard was the Secretary of Anti-Doping Denmark and the epitome of a fierce dog, who ruthlessly criticized doping offenders and professional sports organizations, which were powerless in the face of doping proliferation. Damsgaard was one of the leading doping hunters in the world and the media darling because he never compromised with his own convictions.
So it came as a shock when Rasmus Damsgaard received an unexpected invitation from Bjarne Riis. Denmark's only Tour de France winner invited his worst critic to make an iron-clad anti-doping program for his cyclingteam Team CSC. Bjarne Riis was distraught over extent of doping in cycling, and he declared to the world that he now wanted a clean cycling – whatever the cost. Riis would place ethic higher than the results.
The doping hunter was flattered and accepted the task after lengthy deliberations, although he could see all the ethical problems that could arise in the aftermath of such an agreement. Therefore it was a key point in the agreement between Bispebjerg Hospital, CSC and Rasmus Damsgaard that there should never be paid money, gifts or other benefits directly between the researcher and the cycling team.
Bo Belhage says today that the agreement between Team CSC and Rasmus Damsgaard only could be acceptable if there were absolutely watertight bulkheads between the researcher and the cycling team, the so-called arm's length principle.
"It was a demand from the Region Hovedstaden’s board(the regional government that runs Bispebjerg, translators explanation) that there would be an economic separation. If one is to be objective, one should not have any financial interest in the project, "says chief of medicine Belhage.
The cooperation between Rasmus Damsgaard and Bjarne Riis' Team CSC has since evolved into an unmitigated success – both for Riis and Damsgaard. Despite past sins, Team CSC now has a reputation as the cleanest in the cycling world. Add to that the CSC rider Carlos Sastre won this summer's Tour de France ahead of a string of competitors that have since tested positive for use of doping.
Rasmus Damsgaard has established his name in the international sporting world as a researcher who can create great results without the use of doping. A collaboration with Dane can give access to the biggest races in the world and the main sponsors, where you can get millions of dollars. For that reason the kazach cyclingteam, Astana, entered an agreement with Bispebjerg Hospital on the same terms as the CSC Saxo Bank. Team riders were tired of the doping rumors that stuck to them. Rumors that, among other things, meant that the team was excluded from last year's Tour de France, although the reigning champion, Alberto Contador, rode for Astana.
But Bispebjerg Hospital and Bo Belhage simply don’t want to participate anymore. They no longer have full faith in the project. Although Bo Belhage will not say so outright, the reasons lie with Frank Schleck, Lance Armstrong and Rasmus Damsgaard himself.
Does Rasmus Damsgaard continue working with CSC and Astana, although Bispebjerg Hospital have pulled out of projects?
”Possibly. I do not know. If you can get in touch with Rasmus, and he can sometimes be almost impossible to get in touch with, then he might know, " says Bo Belhage.
But Rasmus Damsgaard wasn’t allowed to be connected economically with CSC, because it would jeopardize the project's legitimacy?
"That is perfectly correct."
It was specifically Bispebjerg Hospital, which entered into an agreement with CSC, and then it was up to the hospital to pay Rasmus Damsgaard, so there was no economic threads between him and the cycling team?
"That is perfectly correct."
So you can probably also reject that Rasmus Damsgaard is still involved since the Bispebjerg Hospital is out?
”No, that I can not refuse because Rasmus is an independent person. I don’t have Rasmus in my department at the moment. So what Rasmus does, I have no control over at the moment. "
So he is not on your payroll ?
"No. If Rasmus has some deal with CSC Saxo Bank and Astana, it is on some other conditions than those I know about. "
The truth about Rasmus Damsgaard projects are somewhat more curious than even his closest friends and colleagues know about. Berlingske Tidende has followed the cash flows between Rasmus Damsgaard and the cyclingteams, he is associated with.
One and a half months ago, 1 December, Rasmus Damsgaard created the company Radar, which he owns one hundred percent. At the same time, Damsgaard dropped the arm's length principle, so that he is currently employed directly by the professional cycling teams CSC Saxo Bank, Astana, and two more.
A senior source in the doping environment is appalled by what he hears:
'Why are there no journalists who ask Rasmus Damsgaard:' Do you do it, because you're cyclingsport’s Messiah. Or do it because you in reality have found a goldmine, that you continue to chop gold out of. 'I am inclined to believe that he has gone into it with the first attitude, but eventually discovered that this is a good way to secure his old age in. "
The question is routed directly to Rasmus Damsgaard.
"It's just wonderful that people have a lot of opinions about things. I have never concealed that it is not philanthropy, I’m in this for. No, I have accumulated a lot of knowledge. And yes, I make money at it. I do. I must admit that. On the other hand I also think that we have come very far in this area, "says Rasmus Damsgaard.
ARTICLE WITH RESPONSE FROM DAMSGAARD
Directly confronted one of the world's leading doping hunters, Rasmus Damsgaard, admits he received an expensive bike as a gift from Bjarne Riis.
By Jesper Dahl Caruso
Last updated Saturday, 24 January 2009, 20:37
The rumor has been around for a while. It is unpleasant, because it can undermine a person's credibility. Therefore, the question should be asked asked. Openly.
Allegedly, there should be a hand-built racebike in the home of the world's leading doping hunter Rasmus Damsgaard. Such a bike costs according to experts 40-50.000 crowns retail as it is similar to those used by elite cyclists during the Tour de France.
There is a rumor that says you have received donations from Astana - including a racebike - is it true?
"No," says Rasmus Damsgaard.
Nor from CSC Saxo Bank?
'Yes. I have recieved a bike from the CSC. That is true. "
Is that not an ethical problem?
"I don’t know if I would say it is. I assume that it was because they got a new bike sponsor and were getting rid of them. But ... I don’t know. It was not something I had expected or asked for. But at the end of the year there was a bicycle. Yes, it was there. I must admit it. There was. "
You don’t think it is a problem?
'Actually I do not have time to ride on it. But no. We must always weigh it against what I am doing for CSC Saxo Bank and Astana. I make a program. "
I can see that, but it is a discussion we also have as journalists?
'Yes. But I could just have asked for 20,000 more in bonuses or something. Or I could have pulled 20,000 more from the project. There is no connection or anything. So personally, I do not think there is any problem in it. Yes ... Yes, but I have. It is certainly true. But it does not change my job. "
Since you started working with CSC, you stressed the importance of you being financially independent of cycling teams?
"Yes, but not more independent - and I believe that I emphasized at the time - than that it is not philanthropy from my side. The teams paid into an account at Bispebjerg Hospital, where I demanded some money for the hours I put in it. It is the same I am doing today. I get the same amount of it today as I was when I was at Bispebjerg. Today I just have a small company, that administrates it. "
But it is not critizisable that there is no longer the arm's length between you and cycling teams, which was there when you started?
'No. The official anti-doping authority for all the tests I take, that’s the UCI. Thus it follows the customer's requirements. I only get the results after the UCI has received them. Then I put them into a database. And I can not tamper with them. "
What you earn from your work for CSC?
"I do not know whether I should inform of that. Whether it is good practice. But I earn exactly the same as when I worked at Bispebjerg.
And what do you earn from Astana?
"They pay the same. But I do not charge double. "
Does this mean that if you check the CSC and Astana and other teams, then you will not be payed more than once?
"Yes, that is I don't pay it out to myself – to my personal account. It goes into my company, which has some costs. You can see that when the year is over. "
What's the name of your company?
It is your company 100 percent.
I have heard that you earn the same as a chief of medicine per team. Is that taken out of the blue?
"When I went into the CSC work, I asked to be paid as a chief of medicine on Bornholm (Danish island, translators comment), who should be on call 24 hours a day. It was around 980,000 DKR or something. But it is true that it could be that there will be a profit in the company after I have been paid. "
Should you not require Frank Schleck fired from the CSC team, if you continue to work with them?
"What Frank Schleck has done a half year before I started my work with CSC, I don’t care about. I also don’t care about if Bjarne Riis has doped. And I don’t care about whether Lance Armstrong has positive EPO tests available in some freezer in France. What people have done in the past, I don’t care about. What it is about is that in this program, we have a pretty strong sense that it can detect whether people are cheating or not. "