EPERNAY, France – Former T-Mobile sports director Rudy Pevenage admitted his role Thursday in organizing trips for former Tour de France winner Jan Ullrich to an alleged doping doctor in Madrid.
Pevenage was Ullrich’s mentor for many years before the German champion retired in 2006 amid his implication in the ‘Operation Puerto’ drugs scandal which has since snared two of the biggest names in the peloton.
The central figure in that affair, which has led to doping bans for Italian ace Ivan Basso and Spaniard Alejandro Valverde, is Doctor Fuentes.
Fuentes was accused of running a laboratory which stored and enhanced the blood of dozens of athletes with the banned performance-enhancer EPO (erythropoietin).
Although suspected of being one of Fuentes’ many clients, Ullrich has always denied doping during his career, which effectively ended the day before the start of the 2006 Tour de France when he and Basso were both thrown off the race for their suspected implication in the affair.
Having kept his silence for years, Pevenage has now admitted he helped organize Ullrich’s trips to Fuentes’ laboratory in Madrid.
But the Belgian also hit out at riders who, he claims, have spoken out against doping having also been clients of Fuentes.
“I never bought or sold banned doping products, all I did was organize Jan’s trips to Madrid to go and see Fuentes”, Pevenage told L’Equipe newspaper on Thurday.
He said T-Mobile had been racing clean in the wake of the Festina doping affair of 1998, which almost brought a halt to the 1998 race, but changed tack after seeing how badly they were faring against rival teams.
“At T-Mobile we stopped everything (doping) after 1998, and I can affirm that our team was really racing clean after that.
“But little by little we realized that we were beginning to trail behind some of our rivals, mostly the Spanish and Italians.
“What good is it going to do to keep on lying? But to put things in perspective, back then I wasn’t under the impression we were doing anything wrong.
“I knew a lot of Fuentes’ clients, among whom were good riders who actually started the Tour de France in 2006.
“And Fuentes wasn’t the only doctor at that time who was up to that kind of thing. I knew of other doctors who were doing the same.”
Pevenage said he was virtually snared by investigators in the Operation Puerto affair after he used his own telephone, and not an untraceable pre-paid card, to call Fuentes from the Tour of Italy in 2006 after Ullrich won a stage.
“Unbeknown to me, the investigators had already tapped Fuentes’ phone. My number showed up, and that was it.”
Ullrich paid a fine of 250,000 euros in April 2008 in exchange for the dropping of sporting fraud charges.
But it remains to be seen whether the German, who was last registered as a professional cyclist by the Swiss federation where he lives, could face more sanctions.
The International Cycling Union (UCI) lodged an appeal in March 2010 to the Court of Arbitration for Sport against a decision by the Swiss Olympic Committee to drop all doping charges against Ullrich.