Blazin' Saddles

Pasta la vista, Schumiche

Blazin' Saddles

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Cycling was left in a state of shock this week when Stefan Schumacher likened his career-long intake of performance enhancing substances to eating "a plate of pasta after training".

This came as a surprise to fans of the German mushroomed-headed ace, who always presumed their idol's stellar performances to be powered by "pan y agua" alone – that's to say, 'miche' sourdough bread and Gerolsteiner fizzy water.

While news that Schumacher's diet went beyond the basic dietary staples to include daily bowls of post-training pasta is a hard enough pill to swallow, subsequent revelations that these pasta dishes no doubt consisted of CERA-stuffed ravioli, spaghetti alla vongolepo and lasagne with a steroid ragu, will taint the career of a man who made Fabian Cancellara look ordinary on two separate time trials in the 2008 Tour de France (either side riding clear on a mountain breakaway).

It has to be said, Schumacher timed his confession to all the perfection you'd imagine from someone currently riding for the Christina Watches Ensemble for Recalcitrants and Misfits.

Just weeks after Danish team-mate Michael Rasmussen finally came clean on his dastardly doping past in the wake of the Lance Armstrong scandal, Schumacher has decided to put our minds at rest and finally admit to using performance-enhancing drugs – a fact he has denied despite picking up a two-year ban in 2008 after testing positive for EPO at the Tour and Beijing Olympics.

A little look at Schumi's CV and you'll see it's hardly an isolated incident.

In 2005 – perhaps after a night out with Jan Ullrich – Schumacher tested positive for amphetamines, only getting off when his mother, a doctor, provided him with a back-dated prescription for an asthma medication. (Mr Hippocrates would have turned in his Greek urn of a grave.)

In 2006 he 'accidentally' collided with George Hincapie in the closing moments of the final stage of the Eneco Tour, before going on to take third place and some vital bonus seconds in the bunch sprint to leapfrog the American race leader, who was sent sprawling across the tarmac inside the final 50m.

And in 2007, after finishing third in the world championships in his home town of Stuttgart, Schumi was caught drink driving and returned a positive test for amphetamines – only to be let off because it was an out of competition test.

All this was before his inexorable rise from peloton journeyman to yellow jersey-wearing time-trialling mountain goat in the 2008 Tour – which the drug testers put down to CERA, a new generation of EPO, but which Schumi put down to hard work and training; a line he followed until belatedly coming out this week.

After his ban Schumi – still sporting his distinctive goatee-and-bald-pate combo – was a big hit on the blossoming Azerbaijani cycling scene at the Miche-Guerciotti team before moving onto Christina Watches in 2012 and making inroads into the Chinese market with victory in the Tour of China II and a runner-up spot in the prequel, the predictably named Tour of China I.

This season the German powerhouse stood on the third rung of the podium in the Tour of Algeria after taking the opening stage. Keen to strike while the iron was hot in North Africa, Schumi took fifth place in the little-known Tour de Blida too. How the mighty have fallen.

Now 31, Schumacher told German news magazine Der Spiegel in a TV interview that will go out this weekend: "I used EPO, also growth hormone and corticosteroids. I went along with the system and I am not proud of it, but that's the way it was."

It is rumoured that Schumacher used the script of team-mate Rasmussen's own coming out as a template for his own doping declaration – carefully substituting the word 'Rabobank' for the word 'Gerolsteiner' on numerous occasions.

Yes, for Schumi pretty much laid the blame for his misdemeanours firmly at the foot of the Gerolsteiner team of Hans-Michael Holczer, whom he claimed was very much complicit in his pasta-guzzling – with the team doctors doubling up as, ahem, Miche-lin starred chefs.

"Doping became an integral part of the daily routine, like a plate of pasta after training," he said, adding that "anyone could just take [doping products] out of the medications box. It was crazy."

After claiming that the team doctors readily faked prescriptions for cortisone preparations, Schumi said: "I've never experienced a place where medication was dealt with as loosely as at Gerolsteiner. He [Holczer] knew what was happening around him."

Schumi was, of course, part of an illustrious troupe of malfaiteurs at Gerolsteiner, the conquering class of 2008 also including Bernhard Kohl and Davide Rebellin.

"The allegations concerning my connivance with Schumacher's practices are totally baseless," Holczer told Cyclingnews.

All Saddles will say here is that it reminds him of an assertion Tyler Hamilton made in his previously reported talk in London earlier in the month: "If you're a good directeur sportif it's not possible to know if your riders aren't doping."

Schumacher's confession and allegations have come out a fortnight after another badly-kept secret was revealed to the world when former Flanders and Liege-Bastogne-Liege winner Rolf Sorensen admitted he used drugs during his career.

Indeed, Sorensen's drug usage was so widely known that one Danish radio programme has had an ongoing joke with the tagline 'Rolf is clean'.

Sorensen, who spent his formative years riding for Italian teams, was the leading light in the Danish cycling scene in the "dark days" of the 1990s. Alongside the likes of Bjarne Riis, Brian Holm and Jesper Skibby, Sorensen was (an albeit peripheral) member of the peloton's 'Danish Coffee Club', as the Australian former pro Phil Anderson first dubbed the close-knit contingent from Denmark.

With Holm, Riis and Skibby all long coming clean of their doping past, and now Sorensen joining the fray, it's fair to say the Danish legion were powered on more than caffeine alone.

Although 'Coffee' may have not been so much as a euphemism as an acronym for Corticosteroids, Opiates, Fencamfamine, Fenozolone, Ephedrine and EPO.

The US Postal team of Lance Armstrong clearly took the Coffee Club to a whole new level with their successful brewing of a double-shot Americano blend – although traditionalists missed the days of a 'Skibby Latte'.

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