Eight-time Tour de France stage winner Marcel Kittel has called for an increase in anti-doping testing in cycling, saying that while the sport is already the most scrutinised, that he would endorse more examinations in order to build trust and to weed out cheats.
The Giant-Alpecin rider was commenting in the wake of the Astana situation, which saw the WorldTour team and its feeder squad have a combined total of five positive tests since September.
He said that this has undoubtedly been damaging for the image of the sport and that anything which further increases the pressure on teams and riders using banned substances is a good thing.
“It is a situation that is absolutely not satisfying for anyone who reads about it, who knows about it,” he told CyclingTips. “I think the problem is that people now think that there is doping use again relating to cycling, especially in a team which has the Tour de France winner.
“Then there is the reaction of the UCI which, to the outside world, outside of cycling, might seem very unclear why they still give them the licence despite them having doping cases. I think we have to try to end this case now in a very sensible way.
“For me the only solution for it is to first of all to have more doping controls again, to be really sure that everyone is tested enough.”
Kittel said it was important to recognise that cycling has already made a big effort in this regard. Other sports have far fewer tests, but he sees the value in going further in order to safeguard the image of the sport and the reputations of clean riders.
“Cycling is already by far the most tested sport of all and we´ll also find the cheats with enough controls. But in my opinion it should be no problem to increase the amount of tests even more. Especially when we come closer to the highlights of each season.”
He referred to the Mauro Santambrogio case as an example of how targeted testing can nail riders using banned products or substances. The Italian tested positive for EPO during the 2013 Giro d’Italia but was able to negotiate a shorter ban due to the provision of important information.
However, days before that suspension was due to end, he was subjected to a surprise test and was found with testosterone in his system.
In addition to such targeted controls, Kittel said that he is also behind the notion of ramping up the penalties. “Maybe we could have even stricter rules to avoid those kind of cases. [For example], if a team has two doping cases or more, perhaps they cannot get a WorldTour licence any more.”
Despite the Astana teams having a spate of positive tests, Kittel recognised that the Katusha team’s previously successful appeal to CAS meant that it was very difficult for the UCI to be able to pull the WorldTour team’s licence.
Its licence commission has made clear that if the team has any further cases, or if any further information emerges linking it to doping, that it is still possible for the licence to be withdrawn.
Kittel believes that the governing body is doing what it can. “I hope that that everyone puts new trust into the UCI, and especially in Brian Cookson,” he said. “They were in a situation now where they could only react according to their rules. Their rules stated that they had to give them [Astana] a licence, otherwise they maybe would lose in CAS, as it was with Katusha.
“I would say it is quite tricky and not easy to explain to people who read about it in newspapers and that are not into cycling like that. It draws a bad image again.”
He appears to back a change in rules to make things more difficult for teams in this situation. “I think we should be careful that it doesn’t happen again in future.”
‘Absolutely normal’ to get a prison sentence in doping cases:
Kittel’s nationality means that he hails from a country which has been particularly outspoken against doping. Germany was previously a powerhouse in world cycling due to the achievements of Jan Ullrich and the T-Mobile team, but the gloss was taken off those performances when the 1997 Tour winner and many of his former team-mates and compatriots admitted long term doping use.
This plus subsequent scandals led the country’s TV stations ARD and ZDF to withdraw their coverage of the Tour de France, although in recent days media reports have suggested that ARD will return to screening the event this year.
Kittel has been outspoken against doping for several years, including calling for lifetime bans and criminal charges against those who dope. He previously was on the receiving end of questions when it emerged in 2012 that he had been administered the controversial black light therapy while being treated by the doctor Andreas Franke at an Olympic training site in Erfurt. However he said that he was being treated for illness and stopped in 2008.
Importantly, the practice was only added to WADA’s banned list in 2011, meaning it was not illegal at the time. The agency confirmed to this writer in February 2012 that the practice was not breaking the rules prior to 2011.
In 2013 he gained a new credibility when he agreed to undergo lie detector tests after being requested to do so by the German Sports Bild magazine.
Unlike all of the German Tour de France riders who were requested to undergo the process in 2007, he said that he was fine with the idea.
The tests were carried out by monitoring his blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, sweating and general responsiveness. He was asked both open and closed questions, including if he had ever used banned products or if they had been offered to him. He said no.
The forensic psychologist Holger Leutz concluded that, on the basis of the physiologicial responses, that Kittel was speaking the truth.
“The things we have monitored during the interview were very evenly measured,” he told . “That is a sign of credibility. Kittel makes us believe in a pure generation of cyclists. I dare say in response to what the detector indicates that Marcel Kittel has never used doping and is a clean athlete.”
The rider said that it was important that clean athletes fought for credibility and trust. “I stand for clean sport and this test has confirmed that,” he said then.
Asked now if he would like to see such tests being uses more often, he said it is one mechanism to earn trust.
“I was approached by that German magazine to do it, so I said, ‘yes, why not. I never did it [doping] before, I have nothing to hide and we can do it together.’”
He added that the incoming anti-doping law in Germany was a step forward. The country is following the example of others such as Italy, meaning that those breaking regulations can be liable to more severe punishments than sporting suspensions alone.
“[With the laws] you can try to chase riders or doctors that maybe have something to do with doping,” he said. “Then if you find something, you put them in prison or whatever, or kick them out of the sport. I think that is the way that we should go.
“In the end, it is about protecting the clean athletes. That is the main goal that we have in sport, not only in cycling.”
Kittel recognises that jailing athletes and others is a very strong measure, but said that there is a logic to it.
“If you take the Padova investigation as an example, you can see what a professional network stands behind it,” he explained.
“It is not only about doping, it is about money laundering, tax fraud, drug trafficking. All that is crime and if you are involved in it, I think it is absolutely normal to get a prison sentence in the end. There should be no questions raised around it.”
That said, he doesn’t want people to equate such tough measures with widespread guilt. While he believes strong punishments are needed against those breaking the rules, he also underlines the rights of clean riders.
“I think it is also dangerous to make every athlete immediately a suspect just because he is doing sports on a professional level,” he reasons, saying that some balance and perspective is important.
“Implementing more tools that we have to control the athlete also starts to happen [in that scenario]. It seems that we do not trust athletes any more…that’s how it maybe feels sometimes. That should also not be the direction that we go.”