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Giro d'Italia

Exclusive: Hesjedal speaks about past doping offenses

Garmin-Sharp's Ryder Hesjedal says his team has been forthcoming and honest, and that he's proud of its work to move cycling forward

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TRIESTE, Italy (VN) — Former Giro d’Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal said Michael Rasmussen spoke truthfully about Hesjedal’s prior doping, and that cycling would be better off if everyone followed suit.

Denmark’s Rasmussen was booted from the 2007 Tour de France, while in the race leader’s yellow jersey, for missing anti-doping controls, and he later admitted to cheating during his career.

In his autobiography “Yellow Fever,” published in November, Rasmussen wrote that he taught Hesjedal and two other Canadians, Seamus McGrath and Chris Sheppard, how to use blood booster EPO in 2003. Hesjedal stayed in Rasmussen’s basement in Italy while he trained for the 2003 world cross-country championship, where he won a silver medal behind Belgian Filip Meirhaeghe. Meirhaeghe later tested positive for EPO, prior to the 2004 Athens Olympics, where he was favored to win the gold medal.

“They moved into my basement in August, before I raced the Vuelta a España and right after I had ridden the Championship of Zurich,” Rasmussen wrote. “They stayed for a two weeks. I trained with them in the Dolomites and taught them how to do vitamin injections and how to take EPO and Synacthen.”

Rasmussen added that they left his home with a hematocrit of 48 per cent, just two per cent under the 50 per cent UCI maximum threshold.

Danish newspaper Politiken reported the news October 30. On the same day, Hesjedal, his Garmin-Sharp team, and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) released a statement. The team stood behind Hesjedal, while USADA said that he had confessed earlier in 2013, as part of its Lance Armstrong investigation. Hesjedal apologized and explained, “I chose the wrong path.”

During the 2014 season, Hesjedal has not spoken about his past doping — until now. VeloNews spoke with him briefly, prior to the start of a stage, and he followed up on email, via a team press officer.

“[Rasmussen] talks about what went on. Is it accurate? Yeah. He’s gone and spoke the truth and I spoke my truth, and that’s the only way,” Hesjedal told VeloNews during the Giro d’Italia, where he finished ninth overall. “If everyone in the sport told the truth, there’d be a little bit of a different picture than there is right now.”

The 33-year-old Canadian, however, stopped short of explaining what drugs he took, and when.

He said that he agrees with Rasmussen’s account, however, calling it “the truth.”

“Its not an excuse, but I felt then that it was my only choice,” Hesjedal wrote in a follow-up email. “Before I chose to engage with Rasmussen (and I want to be clear that it was my choice), I had done everything the right way. But I thought to keep competing and be ‘professional,’  I had to do it. Looking back, of course I know it was wrong — it was stupid and wrong. I had the best results of my career well after I stopped doping. When I was doping, I was trying to show I was professional, to ‘be professional.’ At the time I thought it was just something I had to do. I was wrong.”

He added, “No matter what you say, people are always just going to think you’re lying, so why do I need to keep defending myself?” he said. “I’ve done more right than wrong. I hope people can see that I am sorry for my mistakes and that I have done more right than wrong. I hope by telling the truth to the authorities, I have helped the sport.”

For some, those wrongs, in 2003 and 2004, cast doubt on the years that followed. Hesjedal rode with Rabobank in 2002-2003, U.S. Postal Service in 2004-2005, and Phonak in 2006 — all teams with well-known doping problems — before riding with domestic U.S. squad Health Net-Maxxis in 2007, and Garmin, starting in 2008. He finished fourth at the 2006 Volta a Catalunya, and second at the 2006 Canadian national time trial championship; he also took 10th overall at the 2007 Amgen Tour of California.

Reached for comment, Vaughters wrote in an email, “Ryder signed an agreement with USADA before he gave testimony, that basically states, ‘tell the truth and it’s six months if it’s within statute of limitations. If you lie, it’s a lifetime ban.’ [To suggest] that he might have lied about later years, is a bit ridiculous, because even if he doped much later on than 2004, he’d still get only six months. If someone came forward and called him out after he lied, he’s automatically banned for life. I encourage you to think about that for a minute and think about what logical decision any sane human would make in that situation.”

Besides his 2012 Giro victory, Hesjedal has won stages at the Vuelta a España and Amgen Tour of California, and placed sixth overall in the 2010 Tour de France.

“Have I doped since? No. Absolutely not, otherwise there would’ve been the appropriate actions. I did my part, I went in there [to USADA], I was asked to speak the truth, what I know, and that’s what I did,” Hesjedal said.

“I don’t know what people want to think. At the end of the day, there’s the whole story, the information’s not out there, and people are making assumptions and deciding stuff for themselves, and they don’t know the story. It’s up to me and the authorities, who are trying to do the right thing and what’s necessary. It’s not everyone’s right to know all the details in these types of matters. I told my story to the authorities, because I know they can make a difference. I know I have to earn back trust, and I will try forever to do that.”

Hesjedal did not serve a ban as a result of his confession to USADA. He said that admitting to cheating more than eight years after the fact, outside of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s statute of limitations, was not a way to avoid a suspension. “I know people will look at that, and it’s easy to make assumptions,” he said. “The timeline is the timeline, that’s the way it is. I’m sorry for the mistakes I made in my past. I have spent the rest of my career trying to rebuild myself.”

Hesjedal said he’s proud of the Slipstream Sports organization  which has been sponsored by Garmin since June 2008,  for its staunch anti-doping stance. Multiple Garmin riders, current or former, have admitted to using PEDs in their careers — Tom Danielson, Christian Vande Velde and Dave Zabriskie — and its manager, Jonathan Vaughters, helped re-start the careers of other cyclists caught doping, including David Millar and Thomas Dekker.

“I made the choice to change what I was doing and start racing clean long before joining Slipstream Sports, but I came to the team because I believe in its mission,” Hesjedal said. “I am proud of showing myself, younger riders, and the world that it’s possible to do it clean. Young guys today don’t have to face the same choices that I did, and to me that’s what means the most.”

VeloNews Editor-in-Chief Neal Rogers contributed to this report.