Kohl Tells More … and More

Tour de France Champs Elysses Paris 27/07/08The tale of Bernard Kohl just keeps getting more and more curious. The former Gerolsteiner rider enjoyed several days as a third place overall and king of the mountains at the 2008 Tour de France didn’t expect to be caught for his CERA use. Since then he has gradually revealed what he says were the techniques he and his manager, Stefan Matschiner used to try to evade detection.

As tell-all confessions go, this one has been weak. When dealing with the sharp end of a prosecutor, you tell, well, that “whole truth” thing. We all know that the point of a confession is to expose your misdeeds in toto so that the techniques used in the crime may be known and the other participants may be brought to justice.

In June Kohl revealed that he and Matschiner used the published results of other athletes’ non-negative tests to judge just what the tipping point was for the biological passport.

RKP checked with Paul Scott of Scott Analytics to see if Kohl’s assertion passed the sniff test.

“It’s certainly believable,” said Scott. “The manipulation Kohl is talking about is reasonable.”

But he made it clear that such evasion would require a coordinated effort.

“Riders couldn’t self test these things.”

It begged the question: If riders need sophisticated testing to monitor their blood profile so that they can theoretically stay under WADA’s radar, how are they doing the testing? Kohl’s latest statement to the press purports to reveal just how they worked to evade detection (even if they weren’t ultimately successful).

Allegedly, Matschiner was bribing the staff at multiple—as in more than one—WADA-accredited laboratories to conduct tests on blood samples of athletes he was managing, which, according previous statements by Kohl, included at least one other Gerolsteiner teammate, though he wouldn’t say which one. The employees he bribed were paid between 150 and 500 euro per test and the labs in question were located in central Europe.

The Austrian anti-doping agency, NADA, gave Kohl a two-year ban to which he reacted with disappointment.

“I’ve made my statement and I’ve been honest,” said Kohl; he declined to say whether he told NADA the names of his suppliers. “It’s a shame that I got the same penalty as someone who denies everything. This is the wrong way. I definitely made clear how I got it and what my reasons behind it were.”

But he claims now to have additional information; this is precisely the sort of cooperation that could have resulted in a reduced suspension. His revelation prompts a few questions, but the first and perhaps most important one is, “Why now?”

He has made it clear he doesn’t want to name names in the press, but obviously this points to other information he can reveal without naming a name. So why did he wait? It is fair to wonder if he just wants to be in the press. Many a criminal has developed a taste for headlines.

This latest disclosure was to the German television network ARD. The Viennese public prosecutor has demanded Kohl be brought in for a new hearing into his knowledge of the doping that occurred.

Should Kohl’s allegations be substantiated, WADA has a colossal problem on its hands. One of the agency’s most important responsibilities has been breached: Its labs’ employees can be had for a price. A pretty cheap price at that. Any cyclist (or other athlete) with the money and cojones to mount a brazen defense, a defense that would make Landis’ protest seem timid, could be expected to accuse the lab’s employees of being paid off to tamper with their sample. How do you defend against that? And what about the possibility of being paid not to test a sample?

Should we be surprised by this possibility? Perhaps not. Payola, bribery, alliances—whatever you want to call it—has been around bike racing for decades. Riders have been paid to ride hard or ride hardly at all. If lab techs can be paid to test an extra sample, they can be paid to lose a sample, substitute a sample or tamper with a sample. It’ll just take more money. When integrity is for sale the menu is a la carte.

Photo: John Pierce, Photosport International

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  1. RMM

    Integrity of both the science and the technicians who test samples has been at the heart of many doping defenses. The public has grown so used to doping that a defendant is effectively guilty before any defense can be mounted.

    The press has deliberately glossed over the complexities of the tests and outright ignored or dismissed the possibility that a lab technician could affect a test result one way or the other. Kohl’s assertions not only seem plausible, but also likely. Lab techs are human. Some humans accept bribes.

    One can’t help but wonder if any accused cyclist has had a false non-negative result. Imagine the indignation and the loss of faith if we found out that someone like Landis’s positive was the actually the result of the incompetence or dishonesty of a lab technician.

  2. bikesgonewild

    …honestly, reading this doesn’t surprise me at all but that i (we ???) could be that jaded & right about it is most unfortunate…

    …& if the old landis “wound” is going to be reopened, it was always my contention that after 7 american tour wins in a row, #8 was a petite peu more than some french folks could stand…particularly the right ‘patriotique’ deep pocketed, french businessman who would know the ins & outs of swiss bank accounting…the kind of setup which would ultimately leave no trace, just like analogous ‘blood doping’…

    …& hey…love the guy but maybe floyd landis was “blood doping” but they couldn’t catch him for that, so they fabricated something else…testosterone ???…absurd !!!…please, landis & his trainers were smarter than that…

    …& if i’m right, i’ll bet the landis case, which involved not only a tour de france win but also an “after the fact” accusation was worth a whole lot more than the amounts bernard kohl is talking about…

    …i’m talking “lab directeur” prices, left untouched in a swiss account until retirement years…le tour de france is one of the biggest & most prestigious sporting events in the world & to affect the outcome of something like that is huge but one way or another, that is exactly what happened & it happened after the fact…

    …but hey, beyond all that…please, padraig, don’t use the term “in toto” too often…reminds me of salvatore “toto” commesso, my favorite cycling “man about town”, gourmand & comic…

  3. Author

    Thanks for the comments everyone.

    Da Robot: Where doping allegations are concerned, I agree with you completely; too many cyclists have been convicted the moment a press release hit the media.

    This strikes me as a different sort of problem. I’m much less concerned with anything criminal in nature than the perception that the system can be subverted. We can toss Matschiner and even Kohl in the clink until all the glaciers melt and it won’t solve a thing. If doping cyclists and their handlers believe they can subvert doping enforcement, the efforts of Vaughters, Stapleton and others might as well be for nothing. Even if Kohl’s allegations are completely disproven, WADA will still need to act to restore the reputations of the labs. Everyone involved in cycling as a rider, manager, sponsor or fan needs to believe these labs are as inviolate as a Federal Reserve bank.

  4. Henry

    “needs to believe these labs are as inviolate as a Federal Reserve bank”

    Well then I guess cycling is screwed:) The system will never be perfect but you can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. I have to believe that the current system has greatly reduced the amount of abuse and given riders who would like to race clean a better shot.

    Kohl’s behavior post getting caught is not that unusual for someone dealing with the shock of a life changing event. Sort of like a slow motion nervous break down. Witness the Governor of SC putting himself back in the news with a cringe inducing rambling press conference reveling a whole lot more then anyone wanted to know after the news cycle had moved on to the Jackson death.

  5. Da Robot

    No system is perfect, but this system is getting better. Doping is out in the open, which is to say we talk about it all the time. We’re a long way from whispers in the team car, and knowing winks.

    It’s hard for me to listen to much of what Kohl has to say at this point. All I can say for certain about him is that he’s a liar…so…

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