By VeloNews Interactive
Tour de France winner Stephen Roche has rejected suggestions by an Italian judge that he took performance-enhancing drugs during his career, according to the Irish Independent.
“I have never taken performance-enhancing drugs, whether banned or unbanned, on or off the list, at any time,” said Roche. “In fact, I underwent hundreds of tests during my career and all were negative.”
The issue of drug taking during Roche’s career, during which he won the Tour, the Giro d’Italia and the world championship road race all in one season (1987), arose after the publication this week of an Italian judge’s report alleging that Dr. Giovanni Grazzi, the doctor for Roche’s Carrera team in 1993, had administered EPO to team members, including Roche.
Judge Franca Oliva’s summing up followed the trial on doping allegations of professor Francesco Conconi and his two assistants, Grazzi and Dr. Casoni. All three were acquitted on what amounted to a technicality because the alleged offenses were deemed to have taken place too long ago to attract prosecution.
Nevertheless, the judge wrote in her report, “One cannot but arrive at the conclusion that Dr. Grazzi was effectively involved in the direct dispensing of EPO to (Guido) Bontempi, (Claudio) Chiappucci, (Mario) Chiesa, Roche and (Rolf) Sorenson.”
She also criticized the silence of the athletes involved, saying, “The court was faced with total omerta on the part of the athletes, even in the face of the most obvious and incontrovertible evidence.”
An indignant Roche retorted that he “never had a phone call from anyone asking me was I administered with performance-enhancing drugs by Grazzi. I can promise you this.”
Controversy has also centered on the use of code names in Grazzi’s research, which some critics say adds a suspicious air of secrecy to the whole affair. In response, Roche said: “I first heard about the issue of code names on blood samples in 2000. The journalist David Walsh raised the issue, and when I asked Grazzi about it he told me that there was no point in putting people’s real names to the samples because they were being used for experimentation at Ferrara University.
“After my blood was taken from me by Grazzi it was then sent to Ferrara University for tests. After the results came back to me, the university then used the samples for, what I heard was, plasma testing, so I have no control over what doctors do to my blood once they have it in a university.”
Roche also told the Independent that it would have been pointless to use performance-enhancing drugs in 1993 because his career was winding down and he had only ridden that year’s Tour de France, in which he finished a creditable 13th overall, for “fun.”
Beloki begins comeback on Saturday
Spaniard Joseba Beloki, sidelined since his spectacular crash in the Tour de France last year, returns to competition in the Criterium International cycling race on Saturday.
Beloki, who was forced out of the Tour with multiple fractures after crashing in front of final winner Lance Armstrong on July 14, has joined French team Brioches-La Boulangere this season from ONCE.
The Spaniard, second in the 2002 Tour, has had to postpone his return to competition with various health problems.
“He is coming to begin his reconstruction,” said team director Jean-Rene Bernaudeau. “He is impatient but will come to the Criterium International only to help his teammates, who in turn will help him during the Tour.”
Beloki, who was third in the Tour in 2000 and 2001, was expected to start his season last month but had to put back his return because of Achilles-tendon problems.
The Criterium International will feature a world-class field including five-time Tour de France winner Armstrong, Kazakh Alexander Vinokourov, Briton David Millar and Australians Baden Cooke and Bradley McGee.
The race takes place in the Ardennes region of northern France over Saturday and Sunday.
Postal sends squads to Criterium, Belgium
Lance Armstrong will lead a seven-man U.S. Postal squad at the Criterium International, a two-day, three-stage event that kicks off Saturday.
Tomorrow’s opening stage is nearly 200km while Sunday’s double-stage day includes a hilly 98.5km road race followed by an 8km time trial.
“It’s a very well-balanced race, with a long stage tomorrow and a hilly stage Sunday along with the time trial,” said USPS sports manager Johan Bruyneel. “Lance was second at this race two years ago and I know he’s going to try his best, but personally I think there are some riders that are in a little bit better shape right now.
Of Armstrong’s teammates – Jose Azevedo, Michael Barry, Floyd Landis, Benjamin Noval, Victor Hugo Pena and Jose Luis Rubiera – Bruyneel said Landis, Rubiera and Barry could do “really well here.”
“Floyd is going well, and this is an ideal race for him, especially on Sunday,” said Bruyneel.
And then, of course, there’s Armstrong to consider. “He will definitely give it a try, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he shows himself in the time trial or the hilly stage,” said Bruyneel. “I think we will see something from him.”
Postal will have another seven-man squad racing Saturday, this one at the the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen in Belgium. Antonio Cruz, Stijn Devolder, Ryder Hesjedal, Benoit Joachim, Gennady Mikhaylov, Pavel Padrnos and Max van Heeswijk are on the roster, and both Devolder and van Heeswijk hope to do well.
“It should be a good race for the team,” said Bruyneel.
– AFP and Reuters contributed to this report