The affair caused by the motor in the bike of Femke Van den Driessche brought me up to write this article. Every professional cycling team should make a plan how to act in a positive doping case. I have often asked, in my time as team doctor, attention for this matter in the nearly 25 years I was working in cycling. But no team was interested in a user manual for a positive doping test. To day I don’t know one cycling teams with a manual for doping cases. Clear instructions with good agreements can prevent a lot of problems for the team and the rider.

Charles Schwietert was a well known and reputable journalist who was asked, to his amazement, to occupy a high post in the new government. He agreed but only three days after his nomination it showed that he had not told the truth about his past. He had lied about an education at the university which he never had followed. For days the issue was  big news on the front pages of all Dutch newspapers and took far too long because of uncertainty, fudge and deception because of Schwietert.

Given the fuss that triggered this thing must have been a traumatic experience for Schwietert. He may therefore departed from the Netherlands and he wrote as therapy, along with his wife Dieudonnee ten Berge, a book about reputational damage with the title: Imago Damage & image recovery: people into disrepute, trademarks under attack, the role of journalism.

The core message in the book was that if you commit a great blunder and thereby end up in the spotlight of the publicity only one good solution remains.  Hold without delay a press conference and give disclosure how painful the truth may be. Then you will be relieved, especially if you feel that this has taken away the pressure off the boiler and the focus on your case becomes less every day. Do not lie, do not hold back information  and if there are new developments in a later stage make them public, on your own initiative.

This logic and clear message appears to be difficult in the practice of daily life, if you come under fire and in trouble. It is more difficult to stick to them, than you think.  And for that Schwietert is    an excellent   example.

He was an experience expert in view of the events earlier. He conducted research on image damage and wrote a book about with a clear conclusion. But when he then got back into trouble and he became big news again; he was accused of having committed widespread plagiarism; he immediately fell back into his old defense mechanism of denial, fudge and deception. Strange, instructive but also somewhat understandable. The moment you are in the defense and must react most people become stressed and react differently from what they had previously thought rationally.


You can very often see  these examples  in sport, and especially in cycling. PDM had with Theunisse, in the 1988 Tour de France, a doping scandal hors category, which through denial, lying and hassle became an enormous media spectacle. The country was divided into two camps with the followers who believed unconditionally in his innocence and saw him as a victim of the Tour de France mafia. They were by far in the majority. He was given the status of a saint to whom great injustice had been done. Up to this day this matter is not resolved and  from time to time Theunisse gives an interview in which he declares that he really never used testosterone. Nobody believes him but he just goes on. His last explanation was that an underlying thyroid disease and osteoporosis would have caused his anomalous values. It could be that Theunisse has comes to believe his story himself and that he suffers from the mental illness: Pseudologia fantastica. Characterized by pathological  lying about most bizarre events.The biggest problem is that the patient believes his own lies.

Gert jan Theunisse
His team
Harry Jansen, PR man
Manfred Krikke, manager

“I really do not understand what’s going on. I’ve never taken anything. My body makes extra testosterone. “Gert-Jan Theunisse in 1988, 1989, 1990, 1999 and 2009.

With Manfred Krikke the team manager, Jan Gisbers the team leader and Harry Jansen PR man, we discussed the mistakes we had made especially in contact with the press. Our conclusion was that we had to tell the whole truth right from the start. If we had done so the media attention would not have been so great and not have lasted so long. Also we would have had much less negative criticism.

Harry Jansen thereby spoke the historic words:
“If you’re in the news or is likely to be, especially in a negative way, you should always have to take the lead.”

But in the Intralipid affair, that happened to PDM in 1991, everything went completely wrong.

The drama was huge. The stress was obviously too much. But by not telling the truth and continuing to lie it became an enormous media spectacle that lasted for years. Again, the only good solution was openness and clarity. On Monday morning at half past nine, it was already known before the start of the stage what was going on with the riders. On the night before they were all given a contaminated intravenous infusion with intralipid by the team doctor Wim Sanders. Within a couple of hours the whole team became violently ill.
Despite the experience with the testosterone case of Theunisse, a few years earlier, and the consensus what to do if a disaster of such magnitude would happen again, the leadership of PDM choose for the worse solution. Not telling the truth, only stories full of lies, we will go to the bottom of this; we filed a lawsuit against the hotel; the chicken had been contaminated; Jan Gisbers the team leader felt sick too and so on. And so on……

And I say it again: “the whole team: doctor Wim Sanders, PR man Harry Jansen, manager Manfred Krikke, team leader Jan Gisbers knew already in the morning exactly what the reason was of this disaster.” You want to know how I can be so sure about that? The answer is simple. On that Monday morning Wim Sanders called me very early in the morning at home. In a panic because all the riders were seriously ill. He had no idea what to do. Half an hour later I called him back after consultation with the pharmacy and a pharmacologist. The cause of the disease of the riders was a corrupted administration of intralipid. I gave the advice: do not let the sick riders start the race. And give a press conference in which you explain why the riders became ill.

The similarity with the Charles Schwietert story seems clear to me. But even after my clear opinion, they chose the wrong solution and did not tell the truth.


Riders who are caught for doping do everything possible to get out of a positive  test. The following of which is a large number of doping whisper. Here are a few:

Jan Gisbers “we ate contaminated chicken” and “I also feel sick”.
Cees Priem, ‘its epo yes. Shit word. Probably someone put in our cars’.
Erik Dekker: ‘the tourniquet was too tight around my arm. ‘
Dieter Baumann, “someone put nandrolone in my toothpaste”.
Frank Vandenbroucke: ‘they were medicines for my dog.’
Manfred Krikke; “We will go to the bottom of this”.
Bart Wellens: ‘My teeth were inflamed’.
Theunisse: My body makes too much testosterone.
Rumsas: The drugs that the French police found in my wife’s car after the Tour de France were meant for my mother in law who is seriously ill.
Andrei Mikhailov: Team doctor of TVM is in an audit by the French police caught in possession of 104 vials of EPO. According to the Russian team doctor EPO was destined for a children’s hospital in Moscow.

Contaminated chicken
EPO in my car
Medicines for my dog
My teeth inflamed
For dancing
Children in Moscow

Jan Ullrich: In 1997, Ullrich tested positive for XTC. At that moment he was recovering from a knee injury. The ecstasy was not intended to promote his bike performance, but his performance on the dance floor.
Tyler Hamilton: Was caught in the Tour of Spain on blood doping. His statement: it is called ‘chimera’. A rare human being with genetically different cells. The foreign cells of Hamilton did not come from a blood transfusion but from his never born twin brother.
Björn Leukemans: Was visited by doping controllers along at a spicy moment. The Belgian was just making love to his girlfriend. The results of the following doping test are positive, because: too much testosterone. “Logically,” Leukemans said: “we had to stop our lovemaking, because I had to pee for the doping control.”
The Italian Gilberto Simoni gets caught in an audit on cocaine.
Cocaine applies in cycling not as a performance enhancing agent. Simoni declares that he must have received the drug from his dentist a day before the doping test.

Love with girlfriend
Beef with clenbutorol
It is not my bike, it was my bike.

In  Christian Henn  a towering high testosterone level  is found during a doping control. Because the couple Henn wants a second child, the mother in law of the rider has given the rider a fertility-enhancing herbal drink.

In the 2002 Giro Stefano Garzelli is caught using probenecid, a product that can mask the use of doping. According to the teammate of Marco Pantani the discovery of probenecid is due to eating a contaminated moorhen earlier that week.

Femke Van den Driessche: It was my bike. It is not my bike. I sold it to a friend who put the bike against the camion of the team. A mechanic cleaned the bike and put the bike inside of the camion.

Alberto Contador: a friend of mine gave me, on the rest day, beef that was contaminated with clenbuterol.

Or a positive doping test will eventually become a media scandal that dominated the news for days and will be the talk of the day cannot be predicted in advance. During my career as a cycling doctor I often waited in vain for the bursting of the bomb, but then nothing happened while all the ingredients were in fact available.

Conditions for the creation of a media riot are:

  • Time and place are important. A doping case during the Tour de France receives a disproportionate amount of attention. During the largest global cycling spectacle the concentration of journalists is extremely high.  All those journalists crave copy under the motto ‘the more nasty events the better it is’
  • The doped rider concerned has to be interesting enough. He must appeal to the imagination. Virenque was ideal for this purpose, although he was surpassed by Frank Vandenbroucke. A top-ranked rider is always good.
  • But by far the most important is that they are lying and cheating and denying everything. Preferably against all clear evidence and logic.

Nothing so boring and uninteresting for the press as a rider who casually admits everything. That does not supply interesting articles in the newspapers or the sport magazines.  Maybe that’s why I was not aware of the shocking news that Joop Zoetemelk was given three units of blood in 1976 by its French sports doctor Fuchs in Paris. Granted blood transfusions at the time were not banned, the method also was not on the doping list. I read this news in the beautiful booklet Joop Zoetemelk of the authors Joop Holthausen, Jacob Bergsma and Peter Ouwerkerk.

Joop Zoetemeik

Peter Ouwerkerk was in 1976 as a reporter for a Dutch newspaper present in the Tour de France. About this blood transfusions he reported extensively in his newspaper and the Times and L’Equipe wrote about it in detail. At the time, there was barely any attention to it and it never became a media scandal. Even now at the publishing of this new book Zoetemelk there is hardly any comment.

Strange this kind of a reaction. Unpredictable.

It’s not always funny to hear which excuses come up with the riders to get out of a positive test. It is  not funny at all because such nonsense stories get much attention in the press and  has gotten cycling a bad name. And the cyclists themselves are often regarded therefore as a group that is not too intelligent. In other words, they are not exactly Einsteins. They did not   invent gunpowder or they will not set the Thames on fire.