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Last week Dutch cyclist Thomas Dekker published a revealing autobiography about his experiences with doping, sex, and other nefarious activity on the Rabobank squad in the mid 2000’s. The book, titled Mijn Gevecht (My Fight), was co-written by Dutch journalist Thijs Zonneveld. A former elite racer, Zonneveld had written about Dekker during his time as a talented junior and under-23 (U23).
The book has caused a tidal wave of controversy within Dutch cycling. Dekker chronicles the doping and activities of multiple ex teammates, including Michael Rasmussen and Michael Boogerd. Boogerd recently told Dutch television channel RTL Boulevard that he disagrees with Dekker’s account, and that the Dutch cyclist did not contact him regarding the book.
Zonneveld told VeloNews that Boogerd is “living a lie” about the details that appear in the book. Zonneveld says he met with Boogerd for more than an hour, conducted two phone calls, and then emailed him concerning the details that would appear in the book.
“My publisher didn’t want me to contact the people, but since I’m a journalist I felt obliged to contact them. I spoke with everybody, especially Boogerd. He knew every detail that would appear [in the book] so the fact that he now says he was not contacted is just bullshit. He is living a lie, and he knows it. That is the whole problem with Boogerd and his generation. Lying about these things over and over again is so blatantly stupid.”
The book has garnered attention because of Dekker’s candid description of doping, and his description of hiring prostitutes and taking recreational drugs during his time at Rabobank. Zonneveld said the most compelling part of the story, in his opinion, is how Dekker still achieved cycling success despite his party lifestyle.
“Thomas tells the spring of 2008 that he is in Spain for the Vuelta Mallorca, and that he is drinking a lot and using [date rape drug] GHB with Max van Heeswijk. He falls on the bed unconscious like a junky. The next morning he puts on his cycling gear and wins the queen stage of Vuelta Mallorca. For me that is the most incomprehensible part of the story. I cannot imagine you treat your body that badly. It shows how much talent Thomas had and how much he gave it away.”
Zonneveldt says Dekker began doping at age 21 with Dr. Eufamiano Fuentes, whose operation was taken down as part of the Operacion Puerto scandal. After Fuentes’s operation was raided, Dekker relied on his manager, Stefan Matschiner, to find him new sources of drugs.
“When he started doping, he was like a young kid who was learning to drive a Ferrari. He started with blood bags and that’s the most complicated way of doping, probably the most expensive, but he was already paid very well back then. He paid Fuentes 15,000 Euro, and then he started with Stefan Matschiner and paid him 15,000 Euro. Then for years he was taking Dinepo and cortisone treatments with false TUE.”
In 2008, Dekker says he was summoned to the UCI headquarters in Aigle, Switzerland to talk about his fluctuating blood values. Zonneveldt says cycling officials gave him a warning, instead of sanctioning him.
“Thomas was a big star and they didn’t want to have any more positives that year. He didn’t take the warning and tested positive that year.”
Zonneveldt says he and Dekker began talking about writing a book back in 2013, after Dekker first began talking about his doping past with Rabobank.
“Thomas realized he was going nowhere by not talking about what had happened. So we talked about the short version and did a four-hour interview, and the story was a bombshell. Then we started talking about doing the book. Because Thomas’ story is not just about doping, it’s about the whole lunacy of cycling.”
Zonneveldt says he agreed to work with Dekker on the book, but only if Dekker agreed to pull no punches on his experiences and to not hide the names of the riders and staffers who helped him cheat.
“No names excepted. No deals. No friends who he would protect. Everything had to be open. And the second deal was that he would do it by taking full responsibility for himself first. We didn’t want to shift the blame like [Michael] Rasmussen. The whole story of ‘Everybody did it so I had to do it as well,’ is bullshit. Thomas takes full responsibility for himself. We knew it would cause a shit storm, but we were not expecting this much attention or this emotion, to be honest. Apparently after three years from Lance Armstrong, there is still omerta in cycling.”
Zonneveldt says that, at first, he had to push Dekker to reveal the true details of his doping past. The Dutch rider was still trying to protect sources and friends. But as the process went along, Zonneveldt says that Dekker gradually opened up, both emotionally and with more details of his story.
“Sometimes there was still tendency to protect people and not to be as open as I wanted him to be. We had some fights and arguments at the beginning. That changed. I’m still surprised he was this open. During the process you could really see that he was liberating himself. You see cyclists who do not confess and they must always look over their shoulder. You could see for Thomas that was bad for him.”
Over the course of nine months, Zonneveldt and Dekker sat down for dozens of interviews. During the sessions, Zonneveldt says Dekker experienced wide ranging emotions, from anger and sadness to joy. He says Dekker was most angry when he talked about his experiences as a junior and U23 rider, because he realized he had wasted his talent.
“He got angry when he talked about his time before doping. The talent he had was incredible. The power output as a U23 rider was incomparable with anybody in the modern era. That made him aware of the fact that he really [messed] up his career. If he had been more patient and listened to the few people that told him not to dope, he would still be a rider and a really good one as well. If he had chosen a manager who wasn’t just about quick money he wouldn’t have been driven to the dark side so quickly. It only took one year for him to go to the dark side. For me, seeing how quickly that happened was incredible.”
Dekker’s story, Zonneveldt says, pokes major holes in the theory that cyclists in the doping era were competing on a fair and level playing field, since so many of them were using performance-enhancing substances. Instead, Dekker’s tale shows how uneven the competition field was for pro cyclists, since access to the best drugs and doping techniques ultimately decided who won and lost.
“The fair play argument is total bullshit. It’s just an excuse that dopers use to justify their deeds. Look at the amount of money these guys were spending on doping. It’s not doable for a plain and ordinary pro. Of course you can buy some EPO and just gamble, but doping in such a professional way requires managers and doctors and organization. It requires a team to look the other way. Boogerd had a natural hematorcrit of 40-41, so if he can push it to 50, that is a lot more than a guy who is naturally at 47 and then goes to 50. Doping is such a game changer, so it’s never a level playing field. The only level playing field is when people are not doping. Again it’s a stupid excuse that comes from dopers.”