The 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