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Welcome to the Grand Hotel Doping - but it's not illegal

Slovenian establishment run by ex-pro cyclist offers altitude tents to athletes - banned in Italy, but not elsewhere

Alberto Contador said in 2011 that the Giro d’Italia “could be won in the hotel.” While the Tinkoff-Saxo rider was referring to the rest needed head of each day’s stage, a hotel in Slovenia owned by a former pro cyclist goes further, with rooms customised to replicate conditions at more than 4,000 metres of altitude.

Under World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) rules, there is nothing illegal about the hotel, although its techniques would be outlawed in Italy, where it has been flagged up as part of the  long running Padua anti-doping investigation.

But with links to the banned sports doctor Michele Ferrari, Italian newspaper La Repubblica has nicknamed the establishment, officially the Villa Triglav, the Grand Hotel Doping.

Once used as a hunting lodge by Josip Tito, the dictator of the former Yugoslavia who died in 1980, it is located in Goreljeck in the Tricorno national park.

It has 12 bedrooms and is run by former professional cyclist who finished 10th overall in the 2008 Tour de France and was twice a top ten finisher in the Giro d’Italia – Tadej Valjavec, described by the newspaper as a “disciple” of the banned doctor, Michele Ferrari.

La Repubblica says that when Valjavec decided to restore the building at a reported cost of €100,000, he had an “epiphany,” deciding to install a hypoxic tent that would replicate conditions at between 4 and 5,000 metres of altitude.

Also known as altitude tents, the equipment is not in itself banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, although their use in Italy is illegal under a law relating to public health and artificial boosts to sporting performance.

A post in 2012 by insider blogger Inner Ring casts doubt on the effectiveness of such tents, saying they do not provide the same improvement to performance as, say, using banned substances such as EPO.

But Valjavec is clear about what he sees as the benefits. "I can adjust the percentage of oxygen in any room,” he told the newspaper, saying it stimulates the body’s production of red blood cells, and thereby its ability to convey oxygen to the muscles. “I tried it on myself and I can guarantee that it works," he added.

A ringing endorsement comes from Ferrari, banned from working with pro cyclists in Italy since 2002 and, since 2012, from any involvement in sport worldwide following the United States Anti-Doping Agency’s investigation into the US Postal team.

Recommending the establishment to one of his clients, he said the tents worked and noted that despite the ban in Italy on their use, “you’re in Slovenia,” so [the authorities can] stick it where the sun doesn’t shine, to paraphrase the Italian word, “vaffanculo.”.

Valjavec said: "In some parts of the world this is doping, in others is isn’t. The federations pretend not to see it, so everyone does it,” naming banned former Olympic champion walker Alex Schwarzer and his ex-girlfriend, Winter Olympic bronze medallist figure skater Carolina Kostner, as among his clients.

He added that some athletes who are wealthy enough use altitude tents at their homes, citing one of the biggest names in the world of tennis, and claiming they are also used by leading sports teams, mentioning two major Spanish football clubs.

But, he said, “In Italy, an hour’s drive from here, they still pretend not to see it.”

The Slovenian, identified by the Padua investigation as one of the mainstays of Ferrari’s team, charged with recruiting other athletes to the doctor’s client list, wouldn’t be drawn on his current clients, but said they included amateurs as well as professionals.

“I always say, don’t expect miracles, but you can get improvements; but you have to follow the life of an athlete, if you don’t, it’s useless.”

He remains full of praise for his mentor, Ferrari. "Michele is a friend of mine and also the best trainer there could ever be, full stop.  His method isn’t doping, it’s training, personalised.

“I remember training with him on Tenerife, under the volcano. [Vincenzo] Nibali was there, although with other trainers. But the ones who were with Michele were stronger. Why? He is the best.

“When I opened Villa Triglav he [Ferrari] came here, saw the establishment, and paid me compliments,” he added, saying that it is fully booked for months to come.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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manmachine | 9 years ago

Journalists are nothing more than low educated, whore-like propagandists, serving their global masters. Pathetic, fragile beings

Bigfoz | 9 years ago

Does that mean altitude simulating training masks are also illegal?

or living in Jo'Burg?

Gasman Jim | 9 years ago


jacknorell | 9 years ago

There aren't too many places in the world where you can stay and train at 4,000 metres above sea level...

don simon fbpe | 9 years ago

What is the altitude that athletes are limited to living and training at?

Leeroy_Silk | 9 years ago

What's the difference between an altitude tent in a hotel and altitude training in a real altitude environment. It's no secret that athletes have been doing this for years without any claims of 'doping'.

Gasman Jim replied to Leeroy_Silk | 9 years ago

The difference is, that using an "altitude tent" only reduces your inspired fractional concentration of oxygen and not the barometric pressure, it therefore produces less significant adaptive changes compared to actually going to altitude.

Aapje replied to Gasman Jim | 9 years ago
Gasman Jim wrote:

The difference is, that using an "altitude tent" only reduces your inspired fractional concentration of oxygen and not the barometric pressure, it therefore produces less significant adaptive changes compared to actually going to altitude.

But it does allow people to 'live high, train low' pretty easily.

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