The stratagems put in place by doped athletes – like Lance Armstrong – to escape controls, techniques worthy of the intelligence services to corner them … the former boss of AFLD controls tells us more.
You were the coach of the French modern pentathlon team until the Atlanta Games in 1996. What was the trigger that prompted you to join the fight against doping?
Jean-Pierre Verdy : “I was a high level athlete, then of the French Olympic pentathlon team. I spent years at INSEP, and I knew everything that was going on there. The regional management of Paris-Ile-de-France gave me the mission to take care of the high level and the fight against doping. It was something that interested me, to restore justice. We trained with athletes, then a few months later they were far ahead, and later I understood why. Then there was also the public health side. The first case that we dealt with was the death of a young 20 year old cyclist, doped, and this death so young was unacceptable “.
In your book, you use the words “commando”, “mission”, “informants”. One might think that the fight against doping is akin to espionage …
JPV: “It took secrecy, organization, logistics and informants. You also have to release all the brakes. I had a lot of obstacles. Financial first, with the subsidy granted by the ministry which is not extendable. There is also a legal brake, with many procedures to follow. National and international federations can also be a brake, like the UCI, which was very lax, but also competition organizers, who want to have headliners and negotiate so that there are no doping controls. . The fight against doping is also a question of political will. The subsidies granted to the AFLD represent 50 cents per sports licensee in France, which is not much. We asked for percentages on TV rights, and everything was refused“.
“National and international federations can also be a brake, like the UCI, which was very lax.”
In your book, cycling is an important part. Is it the sport most affected by doping?
JPV: “Doping does not affect all athletes, only a minority. Cycling remains quite emblematic. Historically, cyclists are the ones who slow down the fight against doping the most, and who are on the front line to find the new drugs that have just been released. It calmed down anyway because I had programmed controls on all levels of competitions, trying to remain unpredictable to carry danger everywhere. I made the peloton bitch by ordering operations with a lot of controls. On certain events, not just in cycling, I had to ask the collectors to come forward at the last moment before the start. As soon as the rumor circulated that there was a control, athletes gave up. It’s not classic to give up after two kilometers“.
(About Lance Armstrong) “At the end of the stage, I call all the specialists I know, and they don’t understand how his performance is possible, even with EPO.”
You also tell how you tricked Lance Armstrong. You even suspect it of mechanical doping. Do you think he is the biggest cheater in history?
JPV : “Lance Armstrong, this is the best scam. With complicity at all levels. He got special treatment. Many told me that I should not tackle legends, that I was going to find myself alone. But if the legends are mounted on anything … I also believe that he had a motor in the bike. I still have the images at the head of a mountain stage where everyone is collecting it, and he leaves everyone on the ground. At the end of the stage, I call all the specialists I know, and they don’t understand how its performance is possible, even with EPO. There was something wrong, and all the specialists were telling me the same thing. Yet it was people from the middle, who knew the race well. It wasn’t the EPO that made the difference“.
You also have doubts about Tadej Pogacar’s victory in the 2020 Tour de France …
JPV: “It’s not himself, but his environment that bothers me. His manager, Mauro Gianetti, was the coach of Riccardo Ricco and Leonardo Piepoli, both of whom I took on the Tour de France 2008 (their team, Saunier-Duval, had withdrawn from the race after these revelations editor’s note). Gianetti himself had had health concerns when he was a runner with the ingestion of PFC (a doping product which earned him 3 days of coma and 12 days of intensive care, editor’s note). And there was a strange thing that happened last year, with somebody in the environment who is strange. That’s a lot of strange. After that, I don’t have the blood profiles of these people, I can’t confirm anything “.
Team sports are also affected, but you speak of an omerta in football.
JPV: “Yes there is an omerta. These are the aftermath of the Tapie affair. Everyone who spoke in the VA-OM case has been demolished and has fallen into complete anonymity. So people don’t want to talk, even quietly. They are all scared, even though I protect my sources. Once, a club doctor had declared in the press that there was doping in football. I contacted him to find out where, and he never wanted to say more“.
“I still have some under my elbow”
Why did you decide to write this book?
JPV: “At first, it was to clear my head, because the pressures were heavy. My GP kept increasing my doses of blood pressure medication, and now that I’m retired, I don’t need them anymore. It means what it means… I had to tell. It frees me and at the same time I hope that it will move the lines, react, that the brakes will be removed so that the fight against doping has more subsidies, that there are fewer legal obstacles. It took me three years to write this book, and it was thicker. On the advice of my editor, I had to rephrase some passages and remove names, to avoid legal action. I still have some under my elbow“.
Are you really retired now?
JPV: “Yes, we will say it like that (laughs). I take care of my garden, my bees“.
I don’t know if I can believe you when you say you are completely retired …
JPV: “I also don’t know if you can believe me (laughs) “.
“Doping: my war against cheaters”, by Jean-Pierre Verdy. Published by Arthaud editions. 300 pages, € 19.90.