This was originally on the website spoke-n-word-cycles.com. I’m posting it here on Drunkcyclist to save them from the traffic hit linking that page will cause.
Many thanks to the fine folks at Spoke-n-Word Cycles for providing this translation.
So here we go. Der Spiegel has been publishing an incredible number of stories about doping in the cycling world, and Velo-News has been citing Der Spiegel in their stories. But there have been no translations of those stories. Der Spiegel has not offered up the stories online, and even if they did a google translation is hardly adequate for a ~15 page article. Lucky for me Patricia, having grown up in Germany, is a native speaker. This is a story that all of us should read. So, from Der Spiegel, until it is taken down …
The pro cyclist Joerg Jaksche is, next to Jan Ullrich, the second German cyclist on the customer list of Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes. For a year he’s denied this. Now he is making himself available as the star witness to the prosecution – and tells his story of his doping career.
His cell phone and a black plastic bag, that’s all he brought to the Hotel Universo, which is on the Piazza del Giglio of Lucca. He’s wearing a white shirt, Jeans, tennies, and looks like a student coming from a lecture. It’s Friday, June 15, three weeks to the beginning of the Tour de France. Joerg Jaksche will not be allowed to ride.
He trained this morning anyway, two hours in the rolling hills of Tuscany. Normally he rides six hours, because he hasn’t given up hope of truly racing again. But, today is not a normal day. Jaksche asks if there is news, any rumors, or anything he needs to know. He talks quietly and hesitantly, like someone who isn’t sure they want to do what they’re about to.
In his plastic bag is a file folder that contains the Xeroxed findings report of the Spanish Guardia Civil on doping doctor Eufemiano Fuente, the correspondence to his attorney, and some notes. In the black plastic bag he carries around the entire disaster of his career as a pro cyclist.
Jaksche was a customer of Fuentes, whose doping-lab was exposed a year ago by Spanish police. The Operation Puerto of the Spanish investigators has exposed the largest cycling scandal in the history of the sport. Riders like Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso are allegedly customers of Fuentes, along with 50 or more other riders. However, investigations were halted nearly four months ago because there is no basis for a law suit as of yet. The participating cyclists and team managers are either silent or vehemently deny the accusations. Some teams have since declared a fresh start that is doping free. Most hope that the wuthering is passed and things can continue as they have so far.
In the report by the Spanish police, Jaksche is called “Bella.” Bells, that’s the name of Jaksche’s black Labrador. He had to put her to sleep three years ago when she was older than 16, and when Dr. Merino Batres, a hematologist from Madrid, asked if he could use the dog’s name, Jaksche said “Yes, Bella.”
He came into the Hotel Universo, plastic bag in hand, because he has decided to tell the truth. He is the first rider on Fuente’s list that has come forward and officially broken the silence. He is now a star witness.
“Yes, I am Bella,” says Jaksche. “It is my blood that is in the three pouches that were confiscated. I am also “Nr. 20” in the files, and I was a customer of Dr. Fuentes in 2005 and 2006 in Madrid.”
Jaksche talks about his life as a pro cyclist. Talks about the logistical masterpiece Fuentes pulled off in order to supply dozens of riders with fresh blood. About EPO, which the doctors gave him. About anti inflammatories that he swapped with Bjarne Riis. About what happens, when you try to race the Tour de France without EPO. And, about team managers that he experienced as a cyclist and about their encouragement of systematic and comprehensive team doping that went on then and to this day continues into the Tour de France, where they will sit in team vehicles and watch starting Saturday in London.
Joerg Jaksche is a star witness, because the Omerta, the “code of silence,” doesn’t work any more. The Omerta worked because everyone, team managers, doctors, riders, masseuses, mechanics – they all knew the sins of others. Everyone was black-mailable. Everyone was silent. Now Jaksche is writing his story, the story that Belgian Masseuse Jef D’hont and former Telekom cyclist Bert Dietz, Rolf Aldag and Erik Zabel have described from the 90’s to present.
Joerg Jaksche is 1,85 m tall (just over 6’) and 70 kg (154 lbs) with a sharp features and a strong chin, he is now 30 years old. For ten years now he’s been riding professionally and belonged to some of the biggest and best teams, always among the top 20 riders in the field. He is now a contract rider for a B-rate Italian Russian team that isn’t even invited to the Tour.
Thirty, that’s the age when others are winning the Tour. The age, when a good rider make a whole lot of cash. Thirty, that’s also the age when you can’t afford to take a break.
Jaksche is making himself available to the prosecution partly because he’s been banned from the big races. He is making himself available to the cycling clubs and current world-wide anti-doping campaigns, also to German attorneys who will question him in the hopes that his ban will not last two years or longer. He wants to join the pack next year.
He is upset that the riders like Ullrich, Basso, and others are the scapegoats while the remaining pack is still riding and doping. And, it makes him mad that the current team managers are pretending that they’ve been at the forefront fighting against doping the entire time.
What he can’t gauge are the consequences his confessions will have. He doesn’t want to be the nail in the coffin of pro cycling that leaves 200 riders unemployed. He is fearing the juristic consequences, being named the betrayer, the shame of having lied for so long, his parents, his friends, the public. That’s why he is a star witness unsure of himself on this Friday in Lucca.
His father is an eye doctor, as was his grandfather; he probably would have been, too, if cycling hadn’t interfered. Joerg Jaksche is a good witness, he is eloquent, can describe the structure of the organizations. He is also a prisoner of a system that he has now dared to escape.
Spiegel: Mr. Jaksche, you started your cycling career ten years ago with the Italian Team Polti. Team Manager was Gianluigi Stanga, who has managed teams since 1983. Today, Stanga is the Manager of the team Milram, where Erik Zabel is a rider. When did you first come into contact with doping when you were there?
Jaksche: During a stage in the Paris-Nice race in 1987. It was my first big race. It was pretty good, in one of the stages of the Mont Ventoux I crossed into the leading pack. I remember well, because it was a decisive moment in my career. At the finish line, Stanga came up to me and said “What did you take?” and I didn’t really understand him. I answered him lamely “what are you thinking?” and he probably thought I was making fun of him. Later at the hotel in my room that I shared with Dirk Baldinger, he visited me. Stanga took my blood and measured hemoglobin values to determine if I’d been taking EPO. I had a 41 value, relatively low. I just looked at Baldinger and said: What’s he doing? Is this good or bad? Stanga just said “I’m going to give this Jaksche a 5-year contract.” Boy, was I naive.
Spiegel: You were the amateur Junior champion at the Strassenvierer (100 km 4-man team time trial) and came in second in the Junior World Championships. No doping then?
Jaksche: As a junior and amateur I never doped. Of course we were really shocked at races as juniors, especially in Italy. You are riding in a completely amateur team, make maybe a 160 th or 170 th place finish and think to yourself: How can normal human beings be so fast? Caffeine tablets, a few sips of coke with champagne, an upper for the last few kilometers, an aspirin, that was normal routine me back then. Nothing that would ever be found on a doping list. But, you get used to taking something to get through to the next morning. You train at high elevation to increase your red blood cells that carry oxygen. At some point you get it: you can get the same effect from medicine. That’s how you gain a medical mosaic of knowledge over the years.
Jaksche was 20 years old and earned 40,000 DM (~$35,000) a year with Polti. In 1997 Jan Ullrich won the Tour de France, it was a triumphant year for German cyclists. There were no direct tests for EPO at the time and hardly the mention of doping. In January 1997 Team Polti met at a training camp on the Mediterranean in Italy (Ligurische coast).
Spiegel: Could you keep up?
Jaksche: I was in good shape, could easily scamper up the hills. After training, one of the Polti team doctors suggested I should try a Vitamin B12, folic acid and iron regiment. I said sure, I’ll get it when I get home. No, I was told, we’ll give it to you. At home you give yourself the shots. So, that’s how it started. It was a pretty seamless transition for me.
Spiegel: At what point did you first take EPO?
Jaksche: Right before the Tour of Switzerland in June 1997. We were in a hotel at Lake Constance. Stanga said he wanted to start earnest treatments with me. He wanted to experiment to see what worked on me. What he meant was: We’re going to teach you how the pros do it. It was a crash course for me. A physio would give me EPO shots evenings in my room. I can’t remember the amounts, but I knew in the meantime that EPO was a blood thickener if the dose was too high. At night I’d think: Hopefully my heart doesn’t stop tonight! In the next few days I also got hormone tablets (Medrol) derived from the kidney cortex that are anti-inflammatory. And, Synachten was tested, it is a cortisone, it works quickly and you can take it for a day’s race or for important stages. You feel bad during the first part of a race, a bit bloated like you’d had too much water, but after about 80 km it suddenly clicks. The problem was that I developed blisters/hives on my upper body. After the Tour de Suisse I went to a local doctor in Nuernberg, the doctors there were mystified. I couldn’t tell them what I was on, after all. Finally I was treated in Italy with a round of anti biotics. As a joke, Stanga said “Gee, hopefully you’re not allergic to EPO!”
Jaksche couldn’t ride in the Tour de France in his first pro year, because he was weakened by the anti biotics. 1997, that was the year that Ullrich won the Tour and made him a national hero. More than 12 million German viewers watched him cross the finish.
Spiegel: Did you ever wonder in the beginning: What’s going on here with the pros?
Jaksche: I wanted to quit, I didn’t feel right. The shooting up was just plain wrong. But, over time I got used to it. At some point I had minor successes, you get more professional in your goals and just don’t see what’s going on any more. It’s just like Bjarne Riis said in his confession: Meds are just part of the daily routine.
Spiegel: So you continued.
Jaksche: Stanga made me a better offer. In 1998, my second year, I made 80,000 DM (~$70,000). He said: You’ve got to be the discovery of the Tour this year. Make a top 20 finish and the meds are on the team.
Spiegel: So it was Stanga that supplied the medication?
Jaksche: I don’t remember who supplied them. I didn’t do it. Where would I have gotten it anyway? At the pharmacy in Ansbach? My season was centered around July, centered on the Tour de France. The EPO treatments started two weeks before the Tour of Switzerland. Every other day I had 1000 to 2000 units. No scruples any more. You pretty much knew by then that it’s not so bad. It was what had to be done in order to do my job, so I did it. The logic is this: you have to match the performance of the rest of the pack somehow, because everyone is doing it. In cycling you live in a parallel world.
Spiegel: Weren’t you worried about your health?
Jaksche: Even if it sounds sanctimonious now, yes, I doped, but I didn’t do it to extremes. I never took artificial hemoglobin or something like that where you can suffer from allergic shock. And, you ease your mind by thinking, well, bodybuilders take 16000 units of growth hormone a day so what will it hurt to take 800 units every once in a while just to help regenerate. You think: Well, it isn’t really that much.
Three days before the start of the Tour de France in 1998, a masseuse on the Festina team was stopped at the French-Belgian boarder at Dublin. His car was full of EPO ampoules and other such preparations. The news reached Dublin, where teams were readying themselves for the Tour.
Jaksche: At first I thought: What are they so upset about? Everyone’s got it with them, isn’t this normal? What’s the problem? No one liked doping, not Stanga nor Riis, but in the world that we were living in, there was no feeling of wrong-doing. But, of course the situation was uncomfortable, and then of course as the Tour progressed, we were all scared of being pulled over by the police because of their anti-doping laws. I asked Jens Voigt, rider in the then Gan-team what his team does. Voigt says: One of our riders suggested burying stashes along the route. We felt like little mini-gangsters. One of our team members had the idea to hide the EPO in a double-bottomed vacuum that we carried with us on Tour. Polti, our sponsor, is a household appliance manufacturer, after all. We fit 10,000 ampoules into this vacuum including cooling packs. I just went into the bus after each stage and gave myself a shot. During the Tour, the regiment was 2,000 units every other day EPO with an additional growth hormone in order to regenerate faster, and insulin to help store carbs better. After ten or twelve days I quit this, the risk of getting caught was just too high.
Chaos broke out, the team Festina was excluded, Ullrich rode in the yellow jersey and broke into the hills. There were mass raids, riders won, riders confessed, riders striked, a few teams left. It was the Tour de France. Only 96 of the 189 starting riders crossed the finish line in Paris. Among them, Joerg Jaksche placed 18 th after a seated start in place 146.
It was the Tour that brought Jaksche a new contract – with Team Telekom. In only two years as a pro he’d made it to the top, going from an adequately paid newbie to a team hopeful in one of the most successful teams. Jaksche now earned 300,000 DM (~$250,000) per season and got a team Audi to drive. “I was worry free. I thought: Great! Telekom, the Bayern-Muenchen of cycling – I’ve made it.” (Bayern-Muenchen is one of the most successful and popular soccer teams in Germany).
The team was hand-picked by Belgian Walter Godefroot. He was a decent pro in his time, the sixties and seventies – the era of uppers. He twice refused a drug-test. For years he managed smaller teams. In 1992 he came to Team Telekom, the company wanted to make it big in cycling. Riders like Erik Zabel, Jan Ullrich or Bjarne Riis became part of the team and were winners. Godefroot dubbed Jaksche the crown prince of Jan Ullrich’s. The pool of riders met beginning of January 1999 for two weeks in Mallorca at the Hotel Valparaiso Palace for training. It was pretty clear to Jaksche that there was cheating going on here in his new team. He just didn’t quite yet know how it was being done.
Jaksche: After a few days, the managers approached me on a ride. He asked me how I prepared for the big races the year before. I told him of my training regiment. He said: well, and what else? So I told him what I was taking. No problem, he said. Talk to the doctors. “Things,” – that’s the word he used for it.
Spiegel: Even Godefroot?
Jaksche: There was a team meeting in the conference room at the hotel, where all the riders and managers got together. Godefroot talked about the distribution of benefits and other little stuff. Then he started to skirt the subject but finally warned that “things” were becoming more and more dangerous to take to races. He didn’t say not to do it. He didn’t talk about doping nor about EPO, but it was pretty clear what the point was. After five minutes the topic was closed without discussion. There was a pronounced silence on the matter.
Spiegel: What did Godefroot know?
Jaksche: The management knew everything. It was a firm part of the structure.
Spiegel: The riders were cared for by two doctors of the Freiburger University-clinic, Andreas Schmid and Lothar Heinrich. Did these men supply the medicines?
Jaksche: Yes, but they were no friends of pills. They said: take what will do the most good and that is controllable. In other words, EPO. They didn’t mess around with the little stuff. They wanted to enlighten, to help. Heinrich warned me not to take insulin, as I might become diabetic from it. I felt very secure with these doctors, not as experimental as with Polti.
Spiegel: Who paid?
Jaksche: In the first season, I paid 3,000 to 4,000 DM (~$3,500) for doping.
Spiegel: Who got the money ?
Jaksche: Mostly the doctors. Cash. Perhaps once or twice the team managers. I don’t remember if I paid Godefroot in person or not.
Spiegel: Did Schmid and Heinrich make money on the deal?
Jaksche: No. I knew approximately what this stuff was worth now and the doctors preferred to supply a clean dose rather than let us find it on the black market in Timbuktu or in body-builder studios. I think they were mostly interested in taking part in the success of the riders.
Spiegel: What did you take?
Jaksche: EPO and some growth hormones for better recovery and regeneration. It was part of the Telekom routine to measure hematocrit daily, because a value over 50 would mean an exclusion from the race.
In 1999, Jaksche was a sure starter in the Tour de France. After the Festina scandal it was going to be the rebirth of the Tour. Right before the Tour of Switzerland, Jaksche stopped taking EPO, with Godefroot’s reprimand in his ear. His hematocrit levels were in the inconspicuous range. The rest of the team’s results were apparently not.
Jaksche: One morning during the Tour of Switzerland one of the doctors, can’t remember which one, came in and said “Wow, that was close!” He had shown Godefroot the values from the centrifuge. Walter went as pale as chalk, no one worried about the results, they were all worried about him.
Spiegel: Godefroot to this day denies knowledge of any systematic doping.
Jaksche: You have to assume that he knew. No one can be that blind.
Spiegel: Godefroot was under severe pressure. In June 1999 there was an article in Spiegel about the doping practices of the team Telekom that was based on a source on the team.
Jaksche: The publicity worried most of us riders. Everyone wanted to know: Who’s the rat? I was new and didn’t know enough about the truth, but from what I gathered, what was written was fairly accurate.
After the triumphant years, team Telekom was suddenly in a crisis. Jan Ullrich crashed and had to forego a start in the Tour de France. For Jaksche the race was a disaster, too. During the second stage there was a mass crash and Jaksche was covered in road rash. But the biggest problem for him: he rode without EPO.
Spiegel: How did this work out for you?
Jaksche: Well, you hope from day to day that the pace slows down. You have to try harder and recover worse. I couldn’t keep up anywhere and felt totally superfluous. Toward the end I was worried I’d get hung off of a train overpass somewhere. Finally I was happy about the crash, because I had something I could blame my poor performance on. What else can I say? I walk to the starting line as a hopeful with the team surrounding and supporting me and I end up in 80 th place. I was pissed at my own stupidity. Over being worried about getting caught. That I was the git. In September, after the Tour, I was supposed to ride with Jan Ullrich in the Vuelta a Espagna. I was in great shape, but my blood values were too low. It was pretty clear to me: With these values, I’m hardly even worth it. By the time I arrived in Spain, the supplies were in place.
Spiegel: Did Godefroot’s reprimand not to carry “things” to the race not hold any more?
Jaksche: In Spain, you could tape EPO syringes to your windshield and no one would stop. In France you couldn’t do that any more.
Spiegel: Ullrich won, with your support. Why did you have to leave Team Telekom for a year anyway?
Jaksche: I had the chance, and I screwed it up. I didn’t get the system. I was supposed to have told my girlfriend to supply me while in France. It was like this: in the beginning of the year I was a good boy because my hematocrit values were so low. Godefroot said “nice boy, you don’t endanger our team.”
Spiegel: That changed?
Jaksche. Yes. After the stage race win of Guiseppe Guerini in the L’Alpe D’Huez. The Koenigs stage (day 4) win saved the Tour for Godefroot. Officially the word was: Don’t bring “things” to the race. But reality was a different story. Who showed up with a blood value of 44 was a nice boy, someone with 48 was a cold calculating competitor, and someone with values of 49.5 was a danger to the team. That’s how sick this whole thing was. It wasn’t Godefroot’s point that you don’t dope, he just wanted to be sure you didn’t get caught.
Lance Armstrong won his first Tour. The results of doping-tests were negative. Tour Manager Jean-Marie Leblanc said: “I am convinced that the usage of EPO has disappeared or is at a minimum.” There were no raids, no scandals. Only six years later did it come out that with new testing methods there are traces of EPO in Armstrong’s 1999 urine samples, which he denies vehemently. For the Tour de France in 2000, Jaksche wasn’t even on the start list. In June, right after the German National Championship race at Heppenheim, Godefroot sat down with Jaksche and told him his contract wouldn’t be renewed.
The number of key players in cycling is not to be overlooked. Rumors in cycling get around pretty quickly, especially if a rider is unhappy with a team. In the spring of 2000, the Spaniard Manolo Saiz approached Jaksche at the start of the spring classic Liege-Bastogne-Liege. The manager of the Spanish Once-Team is a patriarch and pedantic man, who drives the stages the night before a race and then is known to bore his riders with excruciatingly long videos.
Saiz asks for Jaksche’s cell phone number. Jaksche signs a two-year contract where he earns slightly more than with Telekom. Once is the Spanish lottery company, the riders are hired like employees, doctors, masseuses, and bus drivers. In the spring the team met for two weeks in a training camp in El Bosque near Malaga. A hotel with no TV, evenings the riders sat together, one played guitar. Everything was perfectly planned, even the medicinal care.
The year 2001 started well: Jaksche placed third in the spring classic Fleche Wallone. During the stage race Paris-Nice he struggled to maintain second place but ended up eighth. In the Tour de France he rode several stages in the white jersey (best young rider). His team valued him especially for his assistance to team captain Joseba Beloki. He played a large part in the Spaniard’s 3 rd place finish, he himself took 29 th.
Spiegel: What was different at Once?
Jaksche: It was suddenly like a family that helps and protects you. And, Saiz was the boss of the family, no one talked back to him. He always said: I pay you to pedal, not to think.
Spiegel: How was the doping organized?
Jaksche: It was completely in the hands of the doctors. I can’t even tell you exactly what they did to us. I just held out my arm and let them inject. You don’t have a choice. Besides, you assume they aren’t going to give you anything that will register positive. That’s the main concern of a pro cyclist. You just look at the history of the team and see: In ten years they’ve never had a rider get caught. So, you assume you’re OK. It’s well possible that for three years they gave me a full regiment of drugs. I just don’t know. And, I don’t want to know. I knew that I was healthy and was making decent finishes. It was a pretty worry-free package deal.
During the Tour de France in 2002, the Once team beat the favorite American team of Lance Armstrong’s in the time trials, Jaksche placed 31 st – as best ranking German. Because he was satisfied with that finish, he didn’t think much about his future career. Jaksche is ambitious, professional, ready to do what is asked of a professional cyclist. But, he is missing that last bit of talent the likes of Jan Ullrich, the aggression of a Riis, and the obsession of an Armstrong, to make it to the top.
In the 2003 Tour de France he should have had the success of his career during one of the early hill climbs. His team captain Beloki crashed, Jaksche could have worn the yellow jersey, but he stopped to take care of his injured teammate. The Spaniard had multiple broken bones, Jaksche arrived very tardy at the finish. “I couldn’t live with myself if I hadn’t stopped. He’s my friend, my teammate, that was on the ground.” He ended up 17 th in Paris.
At the end of the year, the sponsor Once pulled out, the team dissolved. Jaksche negotiated first with Gerolsteiner, then finally joined the Danish team CSC. He got a two-year contract for 500,000 Euro per year. The contract contained the clause: Whoever dopes, is off the team. It was a paragraph that every team put in their contracts around that time in order to show its determination to end doping.
Bjarne Riis, 1996 Tour winner, was the manager of the team. Riis had a good reputation as a manager among cyclists. He is meticulous and knows his way around. The former Telekom masseuse Jef D’hont nicknamed him “Mister 64 Percent” because of his high hematocrit values.
Spiegel: Why did you switch over to the team CSC?
Jaksche: Let’s just put it this way: his reputation as a rider gave me no reason to decide against him. It was also no reason to choose him. I just went with “Who knows, what happens.” I was impressed how he took riders like Laurent Jalabert or Tyler Hamilton and squeezed some more performance out of them. He is pragmatic, tries to get maximum results. I had known Riis a while now, he lives near Lucca. In the beginning of 2004 we went skiing together in Abetone. We were sitting in the lift, talking about the race schedule. We started talking about the different ways that riders improve their performances, just like Pevenage at Telekom. 2004 was a difficult year, the basis for business has changed. Now there is a direct test for EPO, even controls during the training time. The first 50 in the world rankings now have to submit themselves to testing. I often had the feeling of panic. Can’t I perform any better? Can I still earn money? How do I explain my drop in performance? Behind these thoughts: This isn’t fair. The first 50 are tested, the rest aren’t. That’s why you start looking for other solutions to achieve similar results.
Spiegel: How often were you tested?
Jaksche: The training tests were rather sporadic and pretty lame. All I had to do was go to my front door and give my brother’s name and they’d have gone away again. I was only seldom tested during my training periods. Bjarne and I talked openly about my (potential) problem with the tests.
Spiegel: Did Riis arrange for organized doping?
Jaksche: Riis knew about the doping, of course. He says things the way they are. I think he was conflicted between what was possible in his heyday and what’s possible today. There was a gradational shift from the vision of a clean sport and knowing, that you just can’t compete without the doping. There existed then the options to take ACTH (Synacthen, a synthetic stimulant causing euphoria) and other stuff that’s quasi-legal because they aren’t named on the anti-doping lists. But, the purpose was the same: doping. Generally the performance platform went down this year a bit. The hill times were a bit slower. No comparison to 1997, when the 50 hematocrit value was instituted.
Spiegel: What did you take under Riis?
Jaksche: EPO, but only until Paris-Nice, after that it was – as I already said – too dangerous. I told Bjarne “Well, my high performance is over for this year. I can’t afford any more risks.” We took cortisone the entire season. That is on the anti-doping list, but can be used under certain circumstances, e.g. if you are diagnosed asthmatic. So, you could take it to the races without fear of being raided. We took cortisone intramuscularly, because it has such a great effect.
In February 2004, Joerg Jaksche won the Tour de Mediterrane (local stage race that consists of four to eight stages starting and ending at the Mediterranean), four weeks later he won the Paris-Nice race. “From water boy to medal hopeful” writes the magazine Klicker. While on a training ride, Jaksche broke his elbow, a few days before the start of the Tour de France he broke it again. While Armstrong triumphed over Ullrich again in France, Jaksche was preparing for the late summer classics. He crashed again, this time breaking his shoulder. After a strong start, this year turned out to be pandemically plagued.
At the end of 2004, Riis got his team into financial troubles. He was ready to let Jaksche go. Jaksche’s former Once team manager Saiz had found a new sponsor in the insurance company Liberty and made Jaksche an offer. Salary: 500,000 Euro. With the new team came a known doctor: Eufemiano Fuentes, 49 at the time, until 2003 employed as the team doctor for the Spanish team Kelme.
Spiegel: Have you ever spoken specifically about doping with Saiz?
Jaksche: No, it was more like “We know what it’s about.” He also never named Fuentes by name, just told me a doctor would call me. I knew Fuentes through hear-say, he called me shortly after New Year’s, I was in the mountains with friends. I went outside in the snow in order to not be overheard. Fuentes said: Hi, here is Eufemiano. He suggested I meet him in the Gran Canaria, where he lives. I went down.
Jaksche: Mid January 2005. Fuentes picked me up in his beater Toyota. We got around to business pretty quickly and he went through his entire program with me. First he talked about Anabolika (e.g. tesosterone), which I didn’t want because big muscles are too cumbersome in the hills. Then about artificial hemoglobin, some frozen stuff out of Russia. That was too dangerous for me. Then we got to EPO, which I didn’t want because of the doping tests. He assured me that he had found something that will cover up EPO, which he gave me later in a small pill box, you just mix it with your urine sample. Fuentes basically went through his entire catalog and asked me which risks I was willing to accept. With risks, he meant in terms of getting caught, not health risks. That’s how we came up with using your own blood. The method was completely new to me at the time, but he talked about it very casually.
Spiegel: What type of guy is Fuentes?
Jaksche: He is from a prominent family in the Gran Canaria and places a high value on a big stage presence. Fuentes is one of those sport doctors that is proud when his athletes are winning, because he sees this as his own triumph. He didn’t have a practice, not even as a cover-up. He ran his business out of his apartment in the Calle Caidos de la Division Azul. He isn’t a Spanish hack. He is somewhat of a genius, even if he’s a bit crazy sometimes. He’s one that will run a red light just to see what happens.
Spiegel: Did you have personal contact to him later?
Jaksche: Yes. I told him my dad was an eye doctor. Fuentes has a young daughter that developed eye cancer shortly after birth. He asked me if I could help him. Since one of her eyeballs is now missing, her head is growing deformed. He sent me the medical documents and pictures and I forwarded them to my father. My father is in contact with the chief medical doctor in Munich and Muenster, who he forwarded the documents to.
Spiegel: Did Fuentes take blood on your first meeting in Gran Canaria?
Jaksche: Yes, in my hotel room. It was just like when you donate blood. I laid down on the couch, he inserted the needle and the blood flowed out. A half an hour later he’d taken a liter.
In the seventies, the East Germans experimented with swapping blood, but this method seems to have lost favor because the systematic doping using Anabolic steroids (e.g. testosterone) held better results. Fuentes told Jaksche that he himself had been in East Germany and had himself done this type of blood swapping under their medical supervision. It’s unlikely that Fuentes garnered much knowledge from this experience. Blood doping was common even in the west. The four-time Olympic medalist from 1972 and 1976, Lasse Viren, is considered to be the pioneer in doping using your own blood that had been extracted at high altitude. After that, the method was unfavorable. Too much work, too few participating doctors.
Spiegel: Did you know of other riders that were swapping their own blood?
Jaksche: Fuentes is a master of disguises. None of his customers knew who the others were. We teammates didn’t even know if anyone else on our team was being treated by him.
Spiegel: You can’t seriously believe that Fuentes only treated you?
Jaksche: No, but Fuentes didn’t do anything to dispel that belief. One rider told me much later that Fuentes had offered to treat him exclusively for a raise in compensation. I’m assuming that Fuentes did this with other top riders, like probably Ullrich. At least that’s what I am gathering from the fees that have been made public in the Operation Puerto investigation.
Spiegel: How were the meetings conducted?
Jaksche: I had to wait in a nearby Cafe, sometimes five minutes, sometimes several hours. Fuentes himself then set the needle. I just kept thinking: well, this is what you have to do if you want to keep up. And, he wasn’t a quack. Merino Batres, Fuentes Assistant, was allegedly the chief medical officer of the Madrid Blood bank. And, Fuentes was the type of doctor that loved to explain things to you. While the blood was flowing, he’d tell how the blood is cooled and stored. The worst thing that can happen is have bacteria introduced into the sample. He was meticulously hygienic. My arm was always disinfected with some red disinfectant as if he were going to perform god knows what surgery on it.
Spiegel: Is blood doping more uncomfortable than a shot of EPO?
Jaksche: The actual act of having blood taken is pretty gross. On the other hand, your conscience is clearer and you think to yourself: OK, I don’t have to worry about doping controls, it’s my own blood. I didn’t consider this doping. For me, it was matching the system.
In 2005, in Saiz’s team, Jaksche was a noble rider, this time to assist Spaniard Roberto Heras. During the Criterium International in the Ardennes, he took third and won the hill climbs. During the stage race Paris-Nice, he took fifth, a crash made a podium finish unlikely. Right before his favorite race, he swapped in some blood.
Doping your own blood is a logistical nightmare. The dates for giving and taking blood must be pre-determined and Fuentes had to be certain that he never took more than a half a liter at a time because it can take four weeks to recover the blood loss. During this time, the riders are weakened and can’t really compete.
Also, the blood is only able to be stored for four weeks, so the entire spring is a constant trading of blood in and out. The first blood draw is half a liter, the second is a liter with half put back in. That way, Fuentes has a liter of fresh blood and the rider only looses half a liter. The third draw is the same: a liter out and half in. This way, the rider has always got two bags of blood in the cooler. That’s a pretty big effort, especially if you’ve got 50 customers or more.
The transport of the blood is complicated, too. The packets have to be cooled and transported across European boarders. Because of the laws in France, Jaksche got his blood in Madrid and started the first stage of the race doped.
Jaksche: It was a constant oil change. At first it didn’t seem like it was working because all of this in and out really wore me down. That’s why I didn’t really use this method as actively as I could have. Just for the two classics: the Tour de France and the Paris-Nice.
Spiegel: How did you manage this during a stage race?
Jaksche: This is Fuentes logistical masterpiece. He had helpers everywhere. In 2005, the Tour went through Germany. So, in the spring, I went from Ansbach to Bad Sachsa. There, a Doctor Choina took half a liter from me. On the agreed upon date, the 8 th of July, Choina came to Karlsruhe and gave me the infusions for the Tour. It took two days to metabolize the new blood. But, you just feel better then. In the blood there’s more than just red blood cells. There are your own growth hormones, testosterone, vitamins, proteins. It feels like the fountain of youth.
Spiegel: Was the 2005 Tour the Tour of doping with your own blood?
Jaksche: At some point you realize that what you’re doing is not special. I doped with my own blood and my competition didn’t get any weaker. It’s not like I had an atomic bomb and they were fighting with swords. You learn: there’s a new way to get past the controls.
An upset stomach during the Pyrenees stage cost Jaksche a place in the top ten. Overall, he ranked top German after Ullrich, placing 16 th. With the Tour, he’d used up his last bag of blood for the year. He rode in the Tour of Germany and took fourth. He met Fuentes in September at the World Championships in Madrid to talk about the cooperation in the coming season.
In 2006, Jaksche was to benefit from Fuentes new cooling system, a system allegedly developed by the Americans for the Vietnam war. The blood is centrifuged and then frozen at -80*C. The advantage: the blood can be used for ten years. And, you can store a whole lot more blood and you don’t have to put blood in when it’s taken out. During the winter months, Jaksche drove to Madrid once a month.
Jaksche: In the meantime, Fuentes had fallen from grace with Saiz. One of our riders was banned for a hematocrit value of over 50 during the season. After that, there was no more team cooperation of the team with Fuentes. But, Saiz allowed me to continue to see him privately, but at my own expense. So, I met with Fuentes beginning of 2006 in Madrid. He told me his fee: 10,000 Euro for the first installment. I wired the money into his account. The total program all said and done would cost 30,000 Euro. We didn’t really negotiate the price, it seemed fair to me since he had to pay for the equipment, his assistants, and he certainly took a risk, too.
Spiegel: How did the new system work?
Jaksche: I went to the races via Madrid and took the blood on my way. For the big spring classics and the Tour de France I was going to get fresh blood. That was the highlight of the year. It was planned, that I should go to Madrid before the Tour and the blood should be stored in Brittany for the second half of the Tour.
Fuentes and Jaksche saw each other the last time on the night of the 13 th and 14 th of May, in Madrid, in room 605 of the Hotel Puerta, which is where Saiz often got his team together. Fuentes took some blood that night. Ten days later, on the 23 rd of May, the Spanish police searched the lab of Fuentes helper, Merino Batres, and the apartments of Fuentes in Calle Alonso Cano and in Calle Caidos de la Division Azul. They found more than 220 blood and plasma pouches, large quantities of growth hormones, Anabolic steroids, and EPO. When they left the hotel, Jaksche’s team manager Saiz and Fuentes were both arrested. Saiz had 30,000 Euro and 28,000 Swiss Franks in cash on him and a cold bag that contained four packages of Synacthen (ACTH).
Spiegel: Why did Saiz have this money on him when he and Fuentes were allegedly not in contact any longer?
Jaksche: As far as I know, Saiz still owed Fuentes for the 2005 season and was paying him off. Saiz had some problems with his lead rider that switched to Liberty- Seguro at the beginning of the season and had a very bad spring. This rider and his manager, who was my manager for five years, put a tremendous amount of pressure on Saiz. They wanted better medical care, and Saiz agreed. He was in a jamb. The top rider is expensive, Saiz had to justify himself to his sponsors.
Spiegel: Is it possible that you are talking about Alexander Vinokurov and the Manager Tony Rominger? Why don’t you name names?
Jaksche: Like I said, I don’t want to implicate other riders. Saiz was paying off the debt, that’s why everything came to light.
Spiegel: Had you heard of the raids and arrests in connection with the Operation Puerto?
Jaksche: We were at training camp near Santander in the north of Spain. In the evening, around 6 pm, our bus driver said: Manolo and Eufemiano have been arrested. We didn’t know more than that. I took a shower, was pretty confused: Why were they arrested? We didn’t really get that what we were doing was illegal. I asked Fuentes at one point what would happen if he were caught by the police and they found blood in his car. He said “Nothing, because there’s no law forbidding this type of work.” The next day the newspapers were full of the news and I split. Off to Bilbao to the airport and then back home, via Paris. I was never so happy to be on French soil in my life.
Jaksche, despite his worries that his participation would be discovered, rode the Tour of Switzerland. He was a nervous wreck, he had lost 5 kg (14 lbs). Jan Ullrich won, second place went to Spaniard Koldo Gil, Jaksche took third. The podium pictures show his jersey just hanging off of him, he weighed 65 kg at most. “I looked terrible” says Jaksche.
One day before the Tour de France a Spanish newspaper published a list of 37 of Fuentes customers, all determined from files. Both Tour favorites Basso and Ullrich were on the list, also Joerg Jaksche. Ullrich and his teammate Oscar Sevilla and the team manager Rudy Pevenage were suspended from the team T-Mobile. The preliminary Guardia Civil reports started making the rounds exposing the customers of Fuentes.
Jaksche: The conclusions of the report are only partially correct. For example, the Nr. 20 belonged to a different rider up until 2005. The Spanish investigators assumed that I also used the name “Jorge,” which isn’t right. Also, it turns out that there are no pictures or videos of me. What the Spanish police found was a business card of Dr. Marino Batres, Fuentes Assistant. He’s over 70 years old and going senile. He introduced himself every time we met and told me that he likes to ski in Tirol. He was so confused that he put the code name and matching patient number on a business card, which was found in the raid. I don’t want to talk badly about their investigation, but they sure did some really sloppy detective work, probably to put something together as quickly as possible before the Tour.
Spiegel: Were you surprised to see the names on the list?
Jaksche: Yes. But, it surprised me more to see who wasn’t on the list, especially after what we know today. There are also different versions of the list, where names are suddenly missing. Some people were cut on purpose. In the end, only Liberty Seguro riders and a few big ones like Ullrich and Basso were named.
Spiegel: The UCI claims there is only one list. The Spanish rider Alejandro Valverde is, for example, not named. In Fuentes freezer there was a blood pouch found that was labeled “VALV.(PITI)” that contained traces of EPO. Piti is Valverde’s German shepherd’s name.
Jaksche; Name, codename, blood, and blood with EPO. That is just the worst possible incrimination.
Spiegel: Why would someone want to protect Valverde?
Jaksche: If that’s the case, then I can only assume there are sport-political reasons. He is Spain’s biggest hopeful.
Spiegel: And Jan Ullrich?
Jaksche: It really wouldn’t have surprised me to see the King of Spain on that list.
Spiegel: Can you imagine a scenario where there would be another reason to store someone’s blood, other than to use it for doping?
Jaksche: For bull fighting?
Spiegel: Has Fuentes made contact with you since?
Jaksche: In September, four months after the Operation Puerto, I got a text message from him “Hi, here is your old friend. Get in touch with me.” We talked two or three minutes. He was pretty composed about his future, but he also apologized, because he knew the situation that I was facing.
After the Operation Puerto, the sponsor Liberty Seguros pulled out. Jaksche became unemployed. In public, he continued to deny any doping. The attempts to find a new team to ride on failed. On the one hand the world cycling federation was lacking evidence to ban him, on the other hand no major team wanted to pick up a rider off of the Fuentes list. When Jaksche finally gave a press release and talked of retiring in March, almost all of the team managers of his career made contact: Gianluigi Stanga, Bjarne Riis, and Manolo Saiz.
Jaksche: There were rumors that I’d start talking, which had a lot of people worried. Bjarne Riis, for example, told me he couldn’t help me and he couldn’t do anything about that. He even said that he felt sorry for me. Everyone claims that cycling is like the Mafia. It’s not. The Mafia takes care of their own. If one’s left behind, they don’t have to worry. If cycling were like the Mafia they’d say: “Keep quiet for six months and we’ll give you a good contract after that.” But, cycling isn’t like the mafia. It’s unscrupulous.
For two months now Jaksche has been on a new team. It’s by the grace of god that he is riding. The team Tinkoff belongs to Russian millionaire Oleg Tinkoff, it’s a second rung team that won’t be invited to the Tour de France. Jaksche gets a miniature salary for being a cycling pro: 37,500 Euro. He rode a few smaller races for the team, he won the Lothringen-Rundfahrt (five day race), took second in the Euskal Bizikleta. Jaksche claims not to be doping any longer.
For eight hours Jaksche talked on this Friday at the Hotel Universo in Lucca. At some point in the afternoon his cell phone rang. It’s Gianluigi Stanga, manager of team Milram. Cycling is a small world full of rumors. For weeks Jaksche has been a threat. Stanga had heard that Jaksche had begun to wear down.
The conversation has a pleasant tone. Stanga is not a strong-arm team manager, he wears fine suits and has good manners. You could say he was trying to lull Jaksche into a sense of security, get his hopes up that it’ll all be over soon with the Operation Puerto investigation, and then peace and quiet will prevail. He also says, that all the team managers are going to get together and advocate for amnesty so that all those affected by Fuentes list will be able to ride. Only the German teams, Gerolsteiner and T-Mobile are currently preventing the files from being archived. Stanga doesn’t threaten him, and with what could he possibly do that anyway? Jaksche doesn’t have any more to loose.
In the past few weeks, since the meeting in Lucca, he has received more than 40 phone calls. Team managers, masseuses, riders, there aren’t many that support him, a few have made threats, that there is no turning back for him now. Jaksche is still trying to keep his training regiment up, six hours a day, every day.
Jaksche: These are the moments when you sit and think. Is this the right thing to do? I know that this decision will probably have very far reaching consequences. I am scared of the consequences. I still have doubts about doing this and will probably have doubts even after the article is printed. I like Stanga and Bjarne and don’t want to harm them in this. Bjarne is putting 500 000 Euro toward an anti-doping system in his team CSC this year. His personal money, and not, like at T-Mobile, the money of the sponsor.
Spiegel: Why is Riis doing this only now?
Jaksche: He’s gotten that it has to change or the sport will meet its downfall. Of course it’s an economic decision, he wants to make money with his team. But, before it was economics that had him doping: only who doped stood a chance. Only who win made it to the media, and that makes sponsors happy. Only happy sponsors come back next year with new money.
Spiegel: Was Riis one of the people that contacted you in the past few days?
Jaksche: Yes, he was very polite, very amiable. He’d heard that I had talked to Spiegel and wanted to know if it was true. I asked him: Bjarne, why’d you wait until now to call me? When I was looking for work you didn’t call.
Spiegel: Mr. Jaksche, you have spent ten years in silence and lying when people asked you about doping. Why did you choose now to talk?
Jaksche: I think it’s important for our sport for someone to be able to come out and say: Listen, this is how it works here. At some point I want to go up to a manager’s door during a big race and say “Look here! You wanted to be rid of me, but here I am.” Of course no one held me down to be shot up, but the team managers that got rich on my performances, that supplied “stuff,” those are suddenly the people that pretend like they were always advocating a clean team.
Spiegel: Why did you dope?
Jaksche: Cycling is not pretty. It always hurts. The sport is full of pain, bodily pain. Training is the attempt to improve your endurance and pain threshold to the point where you are not dependent. So that it doesn’t hurt so much you first start with cortisone, then EPO, then your own blood. Cycling is a hard sport. Soccer players can jog around the field for 90 minutes and then kick the winning goal in overtime and be the hero. Your life in cycling is dependent on 99 or 100 races, in which you give it your all. It hurts, the whole time, and you are still only seldom successful.
Spiegel: Would you still dope if you weren’t on Fuentes list?
Jaksche: Probably, I’m that good. Every normal human would think: This can’t go on like this, because at some point all the sponsors will be gone. But, if I weren’t on the list, I’d be training like a madman right now and still everyone in the field would leave me in the dust if I didn’t dope. If you know that the sport hasn’t fundamentally changed, which you have to assume, then you have just got to do whatever you can to keep up. One rider told me that because of the training controls on riders, there are now deals between teams and the UCI. At that point, you have to assume there are no changes. This rider told me this proudly. I just know: nothing’s changed.
Last Thursday, Spiegel confronted those affected by this story of Jaksche’s.
Jaksche’s first pro team manager Stanga sent the following fax via Italy: “The claims of Jaksche’s go against my principles and my professional duties.” Ex-Telekom team manager Godefroot denies the accusations as well, but especially denies that allegations that he made the warning to not take “things” to races. He merely pointed out new French laws, that claim that the only medicines that are allowed in the country are the ones filled by prescription in French pharmacies. He claims to be “zero tolerance” when it comes to doping.
Doctor Markus Choina’s attorney, one of Fuente’s assistants in Germany, defends himself with the following: “Only when the defense has been served the complete investigative files will their office even consider a rebuttal.” Tony Rominger, manager of Astana rider Vinokurov, said by phone: “I have never put anyone under pressure over their medical care and have never advised clients to take illegal drugs.” The German cycling pro Jens Voigt wrote that the statement that the double-bottomed vacuum cleaner involved in the 1998 scandal-Tour was not his idea, as stated. Riders Vinokurov and Valverde have continued to deny any involvement in doping.
And Bjarne Riis, team manager of CSC, denies all involvement in the doping career of Joerg Jaksche. He wanted to only confirm his conversation with Jaksche two weeks ago, after he’d heard rumors that Jaksche was going to tell all in an interview with Spiegel. “Yes, it’s true that we spoke about this for a little while.”
Jaksche’s former team manager Saiz, the Spanish doctor Fuentes and also Freiburger doctors Heinrich and Schmid refused comment.by