Willy Voet revealed all what is wrong with Pro Cycling.
As a masseur for eight teams in 20 years, Willy Voet did much more than massage sore muscles. He lost his job as masseur for the powerful French-based Festina cycling team but then wrote an exposé on the cycling culture, Massacre á la Chaîne: Révélations sur 30 ans de trickeries (Chain Massacre: Revelations of 30 Years of Cheating), which became a bestseller in Europe after its publication in May.
After Voet was caught transporting recreational and performance-enhancing drugs into France, he eventually admitted that the latter were for use by Festina cyclists in the Tour de France, setting off a chair of events that has radically altered the public's perception of the cycling world. According to Voet, the overwhelming majority of the cyclists in the peloton (the lead group of riders) used illegal drugs. Those who didn't use them? "The back of the pack,"
Asked about such stars as five-time Tour de France champion Miguel Indurain of Spain (1991 through '95), and Americans Greg LeMond, a three-time Tour winner (1986, '89, '90), and Lance Armstrong, the '93 road race world champion, Voet chose his words carefully. "In my book I only wrote about things I saw with my own eyes," he said. "I never worked with LeMond or those other great champions, so I cannot say for certain they were doing that. But virtually all the good racers I worked with were taking drugs. And that was also true in the '80s." Of the estimated 500 cyclists he treated in his career, how many did not take drugs to enhance their performance? "I can count them on two hands, maybe two hands and two feet if I'm generous," Voet said.
In the '70s, according to Voet, the most widely used performance-enhancing drugs were amphetamines; in the '80s, anabolic steroids and cortisone; and in the '90s, growth hormones and EPO (erythropoietin), a drug that stimulates the body's production of oxygen-carrying red blood cells. If a doctor wasn't around, it was Voet who often injected the dosages. Once he leaned out the window of his car and gave a cyclist a shot in the middle of a race. Another time he used himself as a guinea pig to test how long a particular steroid, Clenbuterol,(which was found in blood of the 2010 Tour Winner, Alberto Contador) stayed in the system.
Voet knew any number of tricks to get his riders through doping control. In the '80s, for instance, he would often fill a condom with "clean" urine, then attach a rubber tube to it. He would plug the tube and glue small hairs onto it for camouflage. After a race, before heading to doping control, a cyclist would come to the team car and insert the condom of clean urine into his anus. The tube would be glued into his crotch, the fake hair blending into the real hair of his nether regions should a doctor be so bold as to inspect. When it came time for the sample, the rider would unplug the tube and fill his sample cup with warm, drug-free urine.
As drug testers became more sophisticated in the '90s, so did Voet and the cyclists. Voet learned how to use a handheld centrifuge to test a cyclist's blood for an elevated volume of red cells, a sign of EPO usage, and taught the cyclists how to use the centrifuge themselves. To avoid detection of EPO in the event of a surprise test during a race, Voet would prepare IV bags of saline solution, wrap them in towels and hide them under the cyclists' beds. If hit with an unexpected test, a cyclist had just enough time to suspend the IV bag from a bicycle spoke bent into the shape of an S and hooked over a door, attach a tube to the bag and put the IV needle into a vein in his arm. In 20 minutes the saline solution would bring his hematocrit value (the ratio of red blood cell volume to total blood volume) below the legal limit of 50%.
"A racer who gets caught by doping control is dumb as a mule," Voet said. Before the '98 Tour de France, only two of Voet's 500 charges had failed a drug test. In 1984 Sean Kelly was suspended for one month, but was quickly reinstated, by the International Cycling Union (UCI), the sport's governing body, after turning in a urine sample that he had secreted under his jersey during the Paris-Brussels Classic. According to Voet, Kelly assumed the sample was clean, but it had been contributed by an acquaintance who had been popping pills to stay awake during an all-night drive. The amphetamines showed up in the test.
During his 20-year career Voet developed a reputation as one of the best in the business at the variety of tasks he performed. On July 7, 1998, he left his Veynes apartment carrying two coolers containing 234 doses of EPO, 24 vials of growth hormones and testosterone, and 60 capsules of Asaflow, an aspirin-based product that thins the blood. All are substances banned by the UCI. According to Voet the drugs had been obtained by a team connection in Portugal, where they can be purchased over the counter. For a month before the Tour, Voet stored them in the vegetable drawer of his refrigerator at home, much to the annoyance of his wife, Sylvie. She was happy to see them go.
Voet would later tell French authorities that his first stop was Paris, where he transferred the coolers from his car to Festina's team car. He drove that car to Ghent, Belgium, the home of Festina's doctor, Eric Rijckaert, who, according to Voet, had asked him to come by to pick up more doses of EPO and some bags of sterile water for intravenous drips. Then Voet continued to Brussels, where he would spend the night with a friend. By the time he arrived he had been on the road more than 12 hours.
It didn't take long for the officials to open the two coolers with the unidentified vials of EPO, growth hormones and testosterone. Asked about their contents, Voet said he didn't know what they were beyond recovery aids for the cyclists. The customs officers said they were going to send the vials to the lab to be tested. When Voet told the officers he had to catch a boat in Calais to make the start of the race, one of them replied, "You can forget about your boat."
Voet had been able to drop one of his Belgian cocktails into the grass without detection, but when he was strip-searched at the customs office in Neuville-en-Ferrain, the other was found in his underwear, and he was handcuffed. When the results of the lab tests on the vials in the coolers came back, Voet at first pretended he had no idea what EPO was. Later, trying to protect his cyclists, he said the drugs were for his personal use. "You take me for a jerk?" the customs official said. Voet was moved to the jail in the central customs office in Lille.
I thought of my family, my children. What if my 13-year-old son, Mathieu, grew up to be a cyclist, and his trainer asked him to take drugs? Would I let him? No way. That's when I decided to tell the truth."
The drugs, he told French magistrates, were for the nine Festina cyclists competing in the Tour de France, which had started three days earlier. On July 15, after Voet told the magistrates that Rijckaert oversaw the dosages, taking blood samples from the riders twice a day to test for hematocrit values, the Festina team doctor was arrested on charges of importing and illegal transport of poisonous substances. Voet told the magistrates that the purchase of the drugs was financed by Bruno Roussel, Festina's director, who also was arrested that day and charged with administering, aiding and abetting the using of doping substances and procedures during a sports competition. At the end of the season, the cost of the drugs was to be repaid out of the cyclists' year-end bonuses. The system had been in place for several years. The amount deducted from each cyclist's bonus check depended on which drugs he used and in what quantities. This is similar to how Jeff Novitzky is trying to bring down Lance Armstrong. Bring down those surrounding him.
Voet was in charge of keeping track, and he kept meticulously coded notebooks that recorded everyone's intake. After Voet was jailed, he said, Roussel contacted Sylvie and told her to destroy the notebooks. Instead, she turned them over to the authorities. Those notebooks were Voet's proof that the Festina doping program was systematic and not the work of a renegade masseur.
Two days after the arrests of Rijckaert and Roussel, the Festina team was thrown out of the ’98 Tour. Six of the nine Festina riders soon admitted taking drugs (none of them were charged with a crime), but team leader Virenque vehemently denied he had done so. The protestations of Virenque were particularly appalling to Voet. In a brief from a hearing before Judge Patrick Keil last May in Lille, Voet said that after the scandal broke he told Virenque, "If I had injected you with everything you had asked me to, you would be a dead man." (In March, Virenque was hit with four sets of drug charges, including ones similar to those leveled at Roussel and Rijckaert. In May, according to French media reports, after months of pleading his innocence, the 29-year-old Virenque, worn down by a 21-hour grilling by French police in a separate investigation, admitted he'd been lying. Virenque has denied the reports and has not been charged in the second probe, though he is still awaiting trial on the March charges. Meanwhile Tour de France director Jean-Marie Leblanc, intent on cleaning up his race's image, announced on June 16 that Virenque was "not welcome" at the '99 Tour because he "epitomizes, in his name, in his image, the doping phenomenon.")
The 1998 Tour drug scandal continued to escalate after Festina's departure. One team after another came under suspicion. In late July syringes with traces of EPO were found in a field in Brives, a town on the Tour route. On July 29 French police searched the hotel rooms of the Spanish team ONCE, confiscating a large supply of illegal drugs and drug paraphernalia but making no arrests. ONCE and a second Spanish team, Banesto, pulled out of the Tour. That same week the doctor and the director of the Dutch team TVM were brought in for questioning after the entire team failed a doping test, and TVM was subsequently banned from the 1999 race.
Years later, what amazes Voet is how little his sport has changed. One drug-related scandal after another continues to surface in cycling, invariably followed by Virenque-like denials and protestations of innocence. Der Spiegel, the German news magazine, published an article in mid-June alleging that the Telekom team, which is led by 1997 Tour de France winner Jan Ullrich, systematically used a doping program similar to Festina's that involved growth hormones, steroids and EPO. The magazine cited team documents and an unnamed former team aide as its sources. Ullrich vehemently denied the allegations.
On June 5 Italian star Marco Pantani, who won the Tour de France and the Giro D'Italia, saw his title defense of the latter come to an abrupt end when he was ejected from the race—while holding more than a five-minute lead on the field—for having a hematocrit value of 52%. A surprise drug test at dawn before a grueling mountainous stage led to the disqualification. The normal range of hematocrit values in the blood is 44% to 46%, but EPO injections can raise them to 52%, 54%, even 60%, at which point the oxygen-rich blood runs like sludge through the veins, a condition that can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Despite the danger, many top cyclists continue to resist all attempts at more rigorous drug testing.
Voet wrote Chain Massacre in the hope that it would lead to some sort of lasting reform in the sport. But he's pessimistic. The doping culture is too ingrained, the urge to cheat too strong. Performance-enhancing drugs have long been part of cycling.
In 1956, 22-year-old Jacques Anquetil, who would go on to win the Tour de France five times, broke the world record for most miles pedaled in an hour. Afterward he baldly refused to go to antidoping control. Voet doubts it was a coincidence that Anquetil died of stomach cancer at 53.
In 1967 England's Tom Simpson died of asphyxiation during a mountain stage of the Tour de France when he literally pedaled until he could no longer breathe. An autopsy revealed high levels of amphetamines in his blood. "Simpson died taking dope, and it never stopped anything," says Voet, who remembers being given amphetamines before an amateur race in 1962. "Why should these revelations stop anything now? In this year's Tour de France there will be just as many people using dope as before."
And what of today’s situation ? We have the UCI who’s supposedly the sports governing body. But other than the IOC, its probably the most corrupt sporting body in world of sport. They have worked behind closed door deals with Lance Armstrong. Pat McQuaid head of the UCI, is damaging the sport for personal profit. They have conveniently received boat loads of money from his Lance's foundation to ensure his samples all turned out negative. The UCI uses 2 sets of rules for the riders. The preferred riders get early drug test notification and a buyout option on a positive test. The rest of the riders get public notification on any positive test and a 2 year ban.
So heading in 2011, this is the uphill battle that Jeff Novitzky , a U.S. investigator of the FDA is up against. He has a tremendous amount of circumstantial evidence but still no "hard evidence." The U.S. Postal Services funded a team that doped. Again, how difficult will this be able to prove ? Will Flloyd Landis' damaging testimony lead to anything ? Or will Lance become the next OJ and continue to laugh at the public ? Only time will tell.