By Andrew Hood
The wires were crackling Tuesday with headlines of another possible illicit blood bank after a German television station went public with a long-whispered story that as many as 30 elite athletes were using a Vienna-based laboratory to dope.
ARD reported that dozens of top biathletes and cross-country skiers and a trio of Rabobank riders were part of an elaborate blood-doping ring, but provided few details. All those involved vehemently denied the story.
“It’s absurd that we are accused of producing blood corpuscles,” said Lothar Baumgartner, one of the directors of the Humanplasma lab in Vienna. “Blood doping is not possible in our lab.”
The report didn’t name any of the biathletes or skiers, but mentioned Rabobank riders Denis Menchov, ex-Rabo leader Michael Rasmussen and retired pro Michael Boogerd as well as retired Austrian pro Georg Totschnig by name.
Totschnig denied the charges in an interview with an Austrian newspaper while Rabobank officials qualified the story as “rumor.”
“There are so many rumors right now,” said acting Rabobank manager Henri van der Aat. “Officially, we have no notification of anything. We looked at the blood values of our riders and they are normal. Cycling is just being dragged through the mud.”
Last fall, out-going WADA president Dick Pound alerted Austrian officials about suspicious activities at the lab. Pound reportedly told officials that the lab was engaged in blood-doping practices.
The lab – which lists five offices throughout Austria — was the subject of two inquiries this fall, one by prosecutors in Vienna and another by Austria’s ministry of interior at the request of the World Anti-Doping Agency. It’s not clear if those inquiries resulted in any official action.