PARIS (AFP) — French rider Jean-Christophe Péraud (Ag2r La Mondiale), runner-up behind Vincenzo Nibali in this year’s Tour de France, has admitted that accusations of cheating early in his career had helped power his later success.

Péraud’s story is recounted in Pierre Carrey’s book “New cycle, confidences of three modern racers,” which follows the career of three French heroes of the 2014 Tour — Péraud, Thibaut Pinot (FDJ.fr), and Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale).

Péraud, 37, and Pinot, 24, became the first Frenchmen to make the podium of the Tour de France since 1997 while Bardet finished sixth.

“Aged 20 I nearly stopped cycling,” recounted Péraud, who explained how a French cycling federation test before a mountain bike competition had revealed he had a hematocrit level higher than the 50 percent threshold allowed.

The test did not result in a suspension, but Péraud nevertheless opted to pull out of the competition rather than sacrifice a possible selection for the European and world championships.

“You cheated, obviously cheated,” he was told by a French federation official.

But after undergoing further tests he was able to prove that his hematocrit level — the number of red blood cells in the blood — was naturally high.

“I was regularly between 48 and 50 percent when resting. And since I’ve adapted my body to training and road race competitions, I’ve come down to around 45-47 percent,” he explained.

“This was the trigger for my career. I thought, ‘You think I cheat, then you’ll see what I can do without cheating?’

“I went from eight hours to 12 hours training per week, I lost 3kg (6.9 pounds). That season, I finished for the first time in the top 10 in the Roc d’Azur [mountain bike race].”

Péraud also won an Olympic silver medal in mountain bike racing at the 2008 Beijing Games.