By Andrew Hood
Olympic silver medalist José Antonio Hermida tearfully defended his innocence of doping after failing blood tests with high hematocrit levels on the eve of Sunday’s world championship cross-country race.
Hermida broke down in tears during a press conference Saturday evening as he tried to explain that he’s been fighting the UCI for years to certify his naturally high hematocrit, which hovers around the official speed limit of 50 percent.
“I have not taken any drugs, I have not done anything wrong,” said Hermida as he choked back tears. “At the moment, I feel like my career is in the hands of the UCI. You can see how my life has changed from one to another.”
Hermida was tested along with the Spanish mountain bike team Friday morning, giving urine samples as well as blood samples that revealed a 50 percent hematocrit. UCI vampires returned Saturday morning and Hermida gave a reading of 52 percent, enough to earn him a required 15-day cooling off period.
“I asked the UCI to make another urine test on Saturday and another one on Sunday, but they refused,” Hermida said. “I have been trying to convince the UCI of my situation for years, but they won’t give me a certificate because my hematocrit level is not always above 50 percent.”
Hermida said he sent medical reports in 1997 and again in 1998 to demonstrate a naturally high hematocrit, but because it wasn’t consistently above 50 percent, the UCI wouldn’t give him an exemption. Hermida will travel Monday to the UCI headquarters in Switzerland to undergo more physical exams.
But in the meantime, Hermida said the damage is already done.
“The worst thing will be in a week when the urine samples reveal I have nothing in my system. They will say, ‘Okay, you are clean.’ The bad thing is that the rumors will always be there,” he said. “Everyone says stay calm, it’s only a ‘stop,’ not a positive. But a ‘stop’ just creates more rumors.”
Hermida is the second Spanish rider disqualified from the 2004 world championships, following Alejandro Diaz de la Peña’s failed test Friday.
Hermida’s failed test is another blockbuster in a string of drug busts rocking the mountain biking community. Defending world champion Filip Meirhaeghe failed an EPO test in June while Spanish Olympic team member Janet Puiggros Miranda failed an EPO test at the Spanish mountain bike championship in Candanchu on July 17.