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By Andrew Hood
Bernhard Kohl ? the Austrian rider who tested positive for the blood-booster CERA during last year’s Tour de France ? admitted that blood doping was the most effective way to cheat.
In an extensive interview with the French sports daily L’Equipe, Kohl said extractions of blood began nearly a year before competition.
“It was in August, 2007, when I submitted to the first extraction of blood destined to be used in the 2008 Tour. The second was in November, a liter each time,” Kohl told L’Equipe. “I had two liters at my disposition for July 2008. My blood was prepared, the plasma globules separated, coded and frozen.”
Kohl outlined when he would re-inject the blood into his system before key moments of the race, giving his system extra capacity to carry oxygen to his muscles needed to propel him up the torturous mountain roads.
“Four pouches of 0.5 liters each of blood, that’s it,” he said. “The first transfusion was after stage 6, the second before the Pyrénées and the third, before the Alps.”
Last year, Kohl rode to third place overall and won the King of the Mountains climber’s jersey only to test positive last fall for the third-generation blood-booster CERA. He was stripped of his Tour results and has been banned for two years from competition.
Since then, the Austrian also has been speaking openly with the media. The latest to trek to Vienna to interview the disgraced climber was L’Equipe.
The 27-year-old Austrian said the blood transfusions were the only “safe” way to cheat during the race without risk of getting caught. Other doping products were used in the weeks and months before the Tour to avoid detection.
“Nothing else, there were too many random controls. Never a testosterone patch,” he said. “Apart from the caffeine, pseudo-ephedrine, painkillers, EPO, human growth hormones, insulin, I took all that before, not during (the Tour).”
Concerning testing positive for CERA ? which also netted Riccardo Riccò and Stefan Schumacher and later Davide Rebellin at the Beijing Summer Olympic Games ? Kohl said he never expected to get caught.
“The cycling milieu was persuaded that this EPO (CERA) was not detectable,” Kohl said. “I obtained the product from another cyclist and I injected myself three days before the start of the Tour. In my mind, I was tranquil.”
After the Tour, Kohl signed a seven-figure contract to join Silence-Lotto, but his world went spiraling out of control in mid-October when analysis revealed traces of the third-generation variant of erythropoietin, CERA.
Kohl quickly admitted his guilt and cooperated with Austrian authorities.
He also publicly named his ex-manager, Stefan Matschiner, who was arrested in March by Austrian authorities, as an accomplice to help carry out the blood doping practices.
“He would fly from Austria and the blood would thaw out while down in the hold,” he said. “He (came) to our hotel and I would get the transfusion in 15-20 minutes. Nobody would notice a thing.”
Kohl – who rode with the now-defunct German team Gerolsteiner – said he arranged all of his cheating methods himself, without the knowledge of his team.
“There was no systematic doping within the team, that’s for sure,” Kohl said. “I think they might have had some intuition of what was going on, but I cannot say. As far as I know, the boss (Hans-Michael Holczer), he didn’t know a thing.”
Kohl’s public comments have created quite a stir, especially his open admissions of working with a Vienna blood bank called Humanplasma. Austrian authorities are making inquiries about Kohl’s declarations that other cyclists and athletes worked illicitly with the blood bank.
Kohl also suggested that authorities from the French anti-doping agency (AFLD), which conducted the anti-doping controls in last year’s Tour, haven’t fully been transparent.
“When I learned that the French authorities were going to make new analysis after the Tour — I reassured myself, OK, I am dead, but others will be dead, too,” he said. “What were the French authorities going to do? Withdraw the complete GC of the Tour? I knew they wouldn’t dare. Bizarrely, only three of us took the fall. I am convinced that the top 10 would be positive.”
There was no immediate reaction from French anti-doping officials.
Finally, Kohl said efforts of the biological passport have fallen short, and perhaps even aided the more nefarious members of the peloton.
“The top riders are so good at doping that they know what they need to do to keep their blood levels stable to escape targeting,” he said. “In fact, the UCI has shown us the levels of riders who failed tests. We used that as a reference to follow. The passport has almost helped us.”
Kohl announced on May 25 that he would retire from competition permanently.