Former Danish pro cyclist Michael Rasmussen, who last week triggered Ryder Hesjedal’s admission to doping in 2003, has admitted he persuaded his dad to donate blood as part of his doping activities, and used a synthetic blood intended for dogs.
With a test for EPO intriduced at the 2000 Olympics forcing them to limit their use of that blood-boosting drug, riders looked to other techniques to increase performance in the earky years of this century.
There was no test at the time that could detect another person’s red blood cells in an athlete’s sample.
“In the Tour of Spain in 2003, I discovered that there was someone who was blood doping,” Rasmussen told Danish TV station DK’s 21Søndag in an interview shown last night. “I had never done it before, so I spoke with the team doctor at Rabobank about it.”
Rabobank’s team doctor at the time was Geert Leinders, who later worked with Team Sky before being sacked because of his association with doping.
Rasmussen said: “He had done it earlier with two brothers who were compatible. And if the blood was compatible, it was like mixing water with water, so there was no risk to health.
“He told me that I should see if I could get someone to agree to it, so I took courage and asked my dad.”
Rasmussen’s confessions have painted a picture of a world in which doping was standard practice for professional cyclists, but asking his dad to donate blood made even him pause.
"It felt like stepping over the line," he said. “It was not easy, but my parents were aware that I used drugs to ride faster. I used the same methods as my rivals to compete with them.
However, the father-to-son blood transfer never happened. After the Flèche Wallone race in 2004, Rasmussen’s father, Finn, went to Belgium where his blood was tested and turned out not to be compatible.
"It [the blood doping] never took place,” said Rasmussen.
Rasmussen’s parents now say that they hope his reveleaitons will help cycling clean itself up.
"It is wrong that he is the only person to be branded a cheat," Finn Rasmussen said. "Our impression was that there was a culture (of doping)."
Artificial blood for dogs
Doping using his father’s blood wasn’t possible for Rasmussen, but he had previously tried an even more alarming technique: injecting a synthetic blood substitute intended for dogs.
"I waited for thirty seconds to see if I would go into shock."
Rasmussen said that he got the idea after riders from the Telekom team took all three podium places in the 2000 Olympic road race.
In his book, Yellow Fever, out today, Rasmussen writes: "It required no great analytical skills to figure out that there was something going on. I also heard rumours that Telekom riders had used synthetic hemoglobin. I never found out if that was true, but this supposed wonder drug was worth looking into.”
"I found out that there was a synthetic hemoglobin for dogs whose composition was exactly the same as that given to humans.”
That product is Oxyglobin, used in cases where dogs become transfusion-sensitive even to matching blood. Its human equivalent, Hemopure, is only approved for human use in South Africa, but Oxyglobin is more widely available. Rasmussen obtained his initially from Puerto Rico.
“Synthetic hemoglobin comes in prepackaged blood bags, and I must admit I was pretty nervous before I took it for the first time,” writes Rasmussen. “It was, after all, artificial blood I had to shoot into my veins. "
"I was sitting in a hotel room in Italy, when I did it the first time. I took a painting off the wall and hung the bag there. It was prior to my first road race in 2001."
Rasmussen first had to administer just a few drops of the synthetic blood to see if he was allergic to it.
“I let five drops run into my veins. Then I waited for thirty seconds to see if I would go into shock.”
He didn’t, but nor did he derive any benefit from what he describes as “a foolish experiment. The artificial blood did not work.”
In 2007, former mountain bike racer Whitney Richards claimed Rasmussen had attempted to trick him into smuggling artificial blood into Italy in a shoebox.
Richards opened the box while trying to fit everything into his suitcase and discovered the real contents, which he subsequently threw away.
“There was no way that I would carry that on to an airplane or carry that through customs for anyone,” Richards told Velonews in 2007.
The story came out after Rasmussen took the Tour yellow jersey that year and in a press conference claimed to be clean. Richards had told his story to journalists before, but had insisted Rasmussen not be identified. But after that press conference, he snapped.
“Look at what the Tour has gone through this past year,” Richards said. “Riders are putting their salaries and their careers on the line to help convince people cycling is clean and this guy gets up and tells people, ‘You can trust me,’ something I know for a fact is not true. The stupidity, the arrogance, the hubris… it’s incomprehensible.”
Rasmussen was withdrawn from the Tour de France by the Rabobank team shortlly afterwards amid accusations that he had misled anto-doping authorities about his whereabouts before the Tour.
Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.
Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.
Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.
The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.