Tour de France king of the mountain Bernhard Kohl admitted on Wednesday that he had doped in preparation for this year’s race.
In a Wednesday evening press conference in Vienna, Austria, Kohl took full responsibility for a “bad decision,” driven at least in part by the fear that he wouldn’t land a new contract when his Gerolsteiner team announced plans to fold at the end of 2008.
Kohl denied that there was a systematic doping program at Gerolsteiner, despite the fact that his teammate, Stefan Schumacher, was also found to be positive for the new variant of EPO, known as CERA.
Kohl said he made the decision to use CERA following a crash in this year’s Dauphiné Libéré. Covered with road rash and unable to train, Kohl said he was doubtful that a mediocre Tour performance would help him secure a new contract.
“The pressure was overwhelming,” he said. “I was looking ahead to the Tour and realized I was not in the kind of condition I had hoped to be. I am just a man and a man who made a decision at a moment of weakness. I made a bad decision and I have to pay for that.”
Kohl’s third-place performance at the Tour netted him the hoped-for contract. He accepted a three-year deal to ride as a top lieutenant for Cadel Evans’ Silence-Lotto team. That agreement, of course, has been scrapped in light of the CERA positive and he is again without a job and facing the prospect of a two-year suspension from the sport.
Kohl, however, denied that his decision was the result of pressure from his team or that it represented an organized doping program on the Gerolsteiner team. Kohl said he was especially sorry that his actions reflected poorly on the team and on team director Hans Michael Holzer.
“No, there was no systematic doping,” Kohl said. “Holzer knew of nothing. Holzer has always stood against doping. I think the worst part is that I disappointed him.”
The team, which was expected to fold at the end of the season, ceased operations following news of Kohl’s positive on Monday.
Kohl said he will not contest the results of the blood test that showed signs of CERA use and is ready to accept whatever penalty Austrian cycling authorities deem appropriate.
“”I will not ask for further analysis of the B sample,” he said. “With this press conference today, I would like to begin to make a clean sweep of things.”
With hands shaking nervously at times, Kohl said he simply hopes to rebuild his life and give his friends and fans a chance to again know “the Bernie Kohl they knew – or thought they knew – when they supported me.”
Kohl was the fourth rider to test for the newest generation of the blood-boosting drug EPO. The new variant, known as a Continuous Erythropoiesis Receptor Activator (CERA), was thought to be undetectable, a belief proven to be wrong when former Saunier Duval rider Ricardo Riccò was found positive after a urine test during the Tour.
Kohl, Schumacher and Riccò’s teammate Leonardo Piepoli were among 15 riders whose urine tests produced inconclusive results. Those riders’ blood samples were tested as a follow-up and the three were found to be positive. On Tuesday, the daily sports paper L’Equipe reported that French anti-doping authorities had completed their tests and that there will be no further positives from the other 12 samples tested.