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By VeloNews Interactive, Copyright AFP2004
Former Kelme rider Jesus Manzano has charged that his former team has long conducted an organized doping program with little regard for riders’ health or safety.
Manzano’s claims come a week after he promised to lift the lid on the Spanish team’s unsavory doping practices, including blood transfusions and the use of experimental substances.
The 25-year-old Spaniard, who was fired by Kelme after last year’s Vuelta a España for allegedly having sex with a woman in his hotel room, openly admits he is seeking revenge because he is currently living a hand to mouth existence.
The 25-year-old Spaniard’s allegations contradict claims by anti-doping experts that they are winning the battle against the sport’s drug cheats.
I’m going to ride well today
Manzano recalled telling his girlfriend the morning of the seventh stage of last year’s Tour de France, before which he claimed he was injected with 50 milliliters of an unknown substance, that he expected to have a good day.
“Get ready, because according to what I’ve been told I’m going to ride well today,” he told her.
Indeed, Manzano did start the day well, escaping off the front with Quick-Step’s Richard Virenque. While Virenque went on to win the stage, the Spaniard collapsed at the side of the road and had to be taken to a hospital after losing the feeling in his hands and arms.
Although it was reported he had simply been suffering the effects of searing temperatures, Manzano now says it was a consequence of being given a drug “that keeps your hematocrit (ratio of blood cells to whole blood) level low but raises your hemoglobin (red blood cells) level.”
Manzano said that he had never taken the product before.
Current doping tests in cycling center on a rider’s hematocrit level. If the hematocrit in pre-race blood tests is on or above the permitted threshold of 50, the rider is prevented from racing for two weeks on “safety” grounds, a legal means of avoiding liability issues by not making a direct accusation of doping.
After three kilometers of the breakaway with Virenque, Maranzo said he began to feel “strange.”
“My hands had gone to sleep … and I started feeling nauseous. I felt very warm but had cold sweats,” he said. “I began to shake, and Virenque looked at me before riding away. I went on for 500 meters and after that I don’t remember anything. I woke up in the ambulance with my tongue feeling swollen and as if I couldn’t take in any air. I wanted them to give me a tracheotomy.”
After hospital treatment Manzano returned to Spain, only for his team to advise him to have a transfusion of blood, although he claims the bags were not labeled and he was not even sure if it was his blood. He fell ill as the transfusion was taking place, and admitted he feared for his life.
“If they had given me the full dose I would have gone home in a box,” he added. Manzano, a former friend of Jose Maria Jimenez – who died in mysterious circumstances at the end of last season – also told of doping during the 2003 Vuelta a España.
“On the Sunday (before the Vuelta) we went to Valencia and they took a liter of blood from us and put it in two half-liter bags. Afterwards, we re-injected one of the bags at the start of the race and the other for later,” explained Manzano, who said each team rider was charged 3000 euros for the stocking of the blood.Strong denials
Meanwhile, Kelme’s director Vicente Belda angrily denied Manzano’s claims.
“They make me sick,” said Belda. “He is not telling the truth and he cannot tar the entire peloton with the same brush. The team’s lawyers are working on this. (The claims) do no good for cycling.”
Tour de France race director Jean-Marie Leblanc said Wednesday he was keeping his options open on the Spanish’s chances to ride in this year’s Tour.
Leblanc told AFP he had some doubts about Manzano’s revelations, and as a result would be following the situation closely.
“I can’t help but have some doubts over this wave of revelations,” said Leblanc. “They have to be checked and authenticated. If in the next few days it turns out that what Manzano said is true or false, we’ll act accordingly. But my feeling is that mister Manzano is saying whatever he wants.”
UCI: 90 percent are clean
The sport’s ruling body, the UCI, said Manzano’s claims had “massacred” the image of a sport which has faced renewed accusations of doping since the start of the year.
“The analysis of samples shows that 90 percent of riders out there are clean,” the UCI said in a statement.
“But we will not give up the fight against doping.”