Austrian cycling star Bernhard Kohl awoke to widespread criticism in his country’s press Tuesday after he became the latest rider to be snared for doping at this year’s Tour de France.
A surprising third place finisher, who surprised climbing specialists by winning the King of the Mountains’ polka dot jersey, Kohl on Monday was confirmed as the fourth rider – after Italians Ricardo Riccò and Leonardo Piepoli, and fellow Gerolsteiner teammate Stefan Schumacher – to test positive for CERA, a new generation of the banned blood booster EPO (erythropoietin).
Hailed as Austria’s next sports personality of the year after his impressive Tour performance and battle to keep the polka dot jersey, Kohl’s star has now fallen dramatically.
“The King of the Mountains in freefall,” headlined the Kurier daily.
Austria’s largest newspaper, the tabloid Kronen Zeitung claimed: “Austria has lost a sporting idol.”
The French Anti-Doping Agency (AFLD) on Monday confirmed that Kohl tested positive on two occasions at the race, on July 3 – two days before the start – and July 15 on the race’s first rest day.
The Standard newspaper noted that Kohl’s positive test was the “13th Austrian positive test in cycling” since 1999.
Kohl’s drugs use is all the more bitter for some journalists as many voted to elect him Austrian sports personality of the year. Kohl’s name has been promptly deleted from the contenders list.
Some newspapers were quick to allege that Kohl’s personal manager, Stefan Matschiner, is a close acquaintance of Walter Meyer, the banned Olympic cross-country skiing coach whose presence at the 2006 Turin Winter Games led to raids on the headquarters of the Austrian cross-country and biathlon teams.
Meyer fled Turin shortly before the raids and then drove his car into a police road block near the Austrian border.