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German anti-doping journalist Hajo Seppelt has been in the headlines this week after he and his colleagues at ARD were involved in uncovering what appears to be a massive doping scandal involving Russian athletics.
According to a documentary broadcast on ARD station WDR on Wednesday night, up to 99% of the Russian Olympic team used doping. They were allegedly facilitated and protected by what was described as an East German-style doping system, which included the administration of doping substances and also cover-ups to try to limit positive tests.
Seppelt has past history in cycling, having forced the public disclosure of Alberto Contador’s positive test from the 2010 Tour de France.
Seppelt had heard suggestions of a possible cover up of Contador’s positive test for Clenbuterol and contacted then-UCI president Pat McQuaid, who denied that the Spaniard had any doping issues.
However the rider’s positive test was announced hours after that phone call, with the news being transmitted by Contador’s spokesman in a late-night press release.
At the time Seppelt said that he felt that his phone call had essentially forced the UCI to go into damage limitation mode and to get the news out into the open before ARD was able to do so itself.
He also claimed that UCI officials had secretly met with the Spaniard to try to manage the situation. Contador subsequently told Seppelt on camera that the UCI had given him advice, telling him to use the Dutch scientist Dr Douwe de Boer in his defence and to claim food contamination as the source.
Contador was eventually handed a ban by the Court of Arbitration for Sport and stripped of his victories in both the 2010 Tour de France and the 2011 Giro d’Italia.
Speaking this week to CyclingTips, Seppelt said that he would be willing to speak to the Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC), the independent three man panel which is currently conducting an inquiry into the Lance Armstrong/US Postal Service affair, doping in cycling and the UCI under presidents Hein Verbruggen and Pat McQuaid.
“They haven’t contacted me,” he confirmed, “but I’ll speak to them if asked. Why not?”
Seppelt previously told this writer that he had received the information about Contador from people who were concerned by how the positive test was being treated.
“There are sources in the international world of cycling, particularly in Spain, who don’t like to play the game,” he said in early 2011. “They hate the way people try to hide the stories in cycling, they don’t take that any more.”
Asked this week to explain why he believed that the UCI under McQuaid behaved improperly, he revisited that theme.
“For several weeks they had been aware of the positive test, and also the B sample,” he said. “They didn’t behave the right way, because there was contact between Contador and UCI staff members at the time.
“In my view, in an independent way of doping control procedures, it doesn’t work that you are in touch with an athlete.
“That happened before we published our story and before we contacted them. This was also one of the reasons why we decided to do further research because we thought it was absolutely unacceptable that a governing body like the UCI and an athlete were in contact with each other to find a way to explain these strange values, these strange ingredients of the urine.
“From my point of view, this was a clear break of the rules.”
Seppelt said that if the CIRC wished to speak about the case, he would talk to the commission.
McQuaid lost his presidential role in September 2013 when Brian Cookson received more votes in the election held at the UCI Congress in Florence, Italy.
Asked if he believed that things were better under Cookson, he indicated that there have been improvements. “One thing is sure – they are better than the past. That is for certain.”
World Anti Doping Agency director general David Howman told CyclingTips this week that he also believed that things were better than before.
“I think we got through a couple of siege periods which were stimulated by others, not ourselves,” he said, referring to the past presidencies. “Those sieges are now over. The atmosphere is much more relaxed and we certainly are getting on pretty well with the Cookson team. We don’t really have any concerns.”
He added that he hoped the CIRC report would help the sport to move on. “We are now looking forward to seeing that report because that will then, hopefully, put past years behind everyone.”
Howman said that WADA had cooperated fully with the CIRC when asked to hand over information. “We’ve given them lots and lots of stuff,” he told CyclingTips. “We didn’t hold back, we just gave them boxes of material and we would expect them to look at it all.”
The CIRC is expected to announce its findings in the coming months. Seppelt may not have been contacted thus far, but there is still time for that to happen and for him to share his information.
Stepanov: Cyclists amongst sportspeople being protected
The Russian doping scandal uncovered by Seppelt has potentially devastating consequences for sport. The country has predictably denied the accusations, but both WADA and the IAAF have said that they have serious concerns and will investigate.
Asked by CyclingTips if he had uncovered any cycling involvement in the Russian doping affair documented by the WDR programme, Seppelt said that there was little evidence, but added that he hadn’t looked in this area.
“There is no involvement of cycling uncovered. Absolutely not,” he said. “I didn’t ask about it, honestly, because I was focussed on other subjects. But no-one told me about it, except from one quote of Vitaliy [Stepanov], our main whistleblower, who said that he was sure because he was working in RUSADA [the Russian anti-doping agency – ed.] as the general adviser of the director.
“He said that he knows for sure that some athletes have not been tested. He also mentioned cycling. That was the only link.”
In the programme, Stepanov gave the following exchange:
“I clearly could see that officials try to make sure that some athletes are not being tested.”
Reporter: “Which sports?”
Stepanov: “In swimming, cycling, biathlon, athletics, weight lifting, Nordic skiing.”
It is unclear if the Russian Olympic cycling team is amongst those which has been shielded in the past, but Stepanov’s comments are interesting in this regard.
Earlier this year the UCI announced that former Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España winner Denis Menchov had been given a two year ban and stripped of several career results, including third place in the 2010 Tour de France, due to biological passport irregularities.
Menchov was part of the Russian team for the 2012 Olympic Games, but never directly tested positive.
Another Russian, Denis Galimzyanov, tested positive for EPO in 2012.
Both he and Menchov have spent periods competing with the Russian Katusha squad.