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By Andrew Hood
Hamburger admits to EPO abuse
Bo Hamburger, the ex-rider who holds the distinction of being the first to test positive for the banned blood booster EPO in 2001, admits that he started using the drug back in the 1995 season.
Hamburger said the EPO use continued through the 1997 season. The revelations come as part of a tell-all book he’s just released in his native Denmark.
“Doping was part of cycling in the middle of the 1990s and the victories back then came as at a level playing field because we all took it,” he writes in his book. “It was a general practice. My alternative would have been to retire and work in a garage.”
Hamburger, who saw the 2001 doping charges overturned due to inconsistent counter-analysis, retired last year, but admitted he resumed doping late in his career following an injury in 2005. He rode for TVM and Acqua e Sapone and took silver in the 1997 world championship behind Laurent Brochard.
“There was no alternative,” he said. “I didn’t want to be walking the tightrope. I couldn’t accept it. In my world, cycling was something that was either black or white. Either I raced at the highest level or I didn’t race at all. Cycling meant so much to me I would have sold my wife if it would have helped me obtain an objective. So why not take EPO then?”
The 37-year-old Hamburger turned pro in 1991 with TVM and won such races as Flèche Wallone, a stage at the Tour de France as well as wore the maillot jaune early in the 1998 Tour.
In 2001, he was fired by Team CSC after becoming the first rider to test positive for EPO under a new testing protocol. The Court of Arbitration for Sport later overruled the decision following inconsistencies in the B-sample, but Hamburger later revealed high levels of hematocrit.
Hamburger is just the latest in a string of Danish stars who’ve admitted to using banned performance-enhancing drugs during the 1990s. Brian Holm, 1996 Tour winner Bjarne Riis and Jesper Skibby have also come forward with doping confessions this year.
New role for Ekimov
Viatcheslav Ekimov made a racing career bridging the gap between the former Soviet Union and the European peloton.
Now the retired Russian will use those skills to help rebuild the image of the tattered Astana team as he joins Johan Bruyneel in a move to the Kazakh-sponsored squad as a team liaison.
Ekimov, who grew up in St. Petersburg and became one of the most successful riders to come out of the former Soviet Union, will act as the lead contact between new manager Bruyneel and the team’s main sponsors that include some of Kazakhstan’s biggest and most powerful industries.
“I’m in the middle of all this because the guys in Kazakhstan are pretty bad with communications. They do their regular job, big jobs in business and then the (cycling) federation is kind of like a hobby. But cycling is number one in Kazakhstan, so they want to have a team,” Ekimov said in an interview with thepaceline.com. “They have the money and they have the talent but they don’t know how to run the team. That’s why they were looking for new management.”
Ekimov joins scores of ex-Discovery Channel riders and staff following Bruyneel to the new-look Astana. Also making the switch will be sport director Sean Yates as well as riders Levi Leipheimer, Alberto Contador, Sergio Paulinho, Benjamin Noval, Tomas Vaitkus and Janez Brajkovic. Ex-CSC sport director Alain Gallopin has been tapped as lead director.
Ekimov was the main contact person when Astana sponsors first considered changing management in August in the wake of the disastrous doping positives involving star riders Alexander Vinokourov and Andrey Kashechkin.
Ekimov helped Kazakh officials make contact with Bruyneel, who was eventually convinced to reverse his decision to retire and return as team manager for the troubled team looking to reshape its image.
“We’re all working together as a team. Johan is the captain and he’s doing all the management stuff, finding riders, signing riders, so me and some others are there to help him however he needs it. I have to help Johan communicate back and forth with the federation and that kind of stuff,” he said.
Bianchi joins up with Barloworld
Bianchi will be the techical sponsor for Barloworld for the 2008 season, the Italian bike manufacturer announced Wednesday.
“Bianchi is proud to join the successful Barloworld team managed by Claudio Corti,” said Bianchi Chief Executive Officer Bob Ippolito. “Barloworld has a long term strategy to build a successful team based upon a close relationship with its technical sponsor and we look forward to many years of cooperation.”