Poor Roy Sentjens. The Milram rider was busted for EPO use and ejected from the Vuelta. He started with the classic opening defence, as reported by cyclingnews.com on Friday 10 September:
“I don’t understand what is going on. I know everyone says this, but I’m really innocent,” he told Het Belang van Limburg. “I am perplexed.”
But this gambit was reversed 24 hours later. We go from denial to an account of how he did it:
“I haven’t asked for an analysis of the B-sample, because I know what it contains,” Sentjens said. “I want to say sorry to those who believed in me.”
“I wanted a contract. I have a son, a new house, a car and I wanted to start a new life” he said. “I made a mistake. In a instant, I just stepped into my car, drove to Barcelona and parked in the city centre. I went was ready to go around the pharmacies where I might find EPO. At the second one, I had what I needed.”
At first I felt sorry for the rider, here was a desperate man cracking under pressure, forced to dope for the sake of his family.Yet Sentjens’ actions were also an effort to take bread of the table of other more honest families. Given this, it’s time for some tough questions.
Austrian rider Bernard Kohl also made similar claims of pressure and suddenly ordering CERA over the internet. Only this wasn’t the final story, in time he admitted to a career of doping and his “I cracked” story was cooked up to garner sympathy. So was Sentjens spur of the moment decision really like that? Here are some thoughts…
- Was this the first time he used EPO? He’s won races over the years with regularity yet he then takes this powerful hormone and nobody noticed any gains. Yes, maybe he was trying to play catch-up from injury.
- Was the element of surprise his downfall? He was caught because of a random test and an apparently early knock on the door. The same unexpected test caught Swiss rider Thomas Frei, who said he didn’t have time to drink pints of water to thwart the test after EPO “microdosing”.
- Did he really drive to Barcelona and just start walking around? EPO is not something your doctor prescribes and you walk into the pharmacy to pick up. It’s a serious medicine administered by clinicians, it is normally only available in hospitals for those undergoing chemo or with chronic renal problems.
- Once you find a pharmacy that stocks EPO, try getting them to sell it to you. It’s illegal to do this in Spain.
- Finally, from the mechanics of knowing where to inject the needle to the science of knowing the dosage, this is quite complex. Plus I’ve heard that riders also accompany the EPO with significant additional protein and iron, including hefty ferritin injections. It’s a big deal to do this.
These are just questions. There can be little doubt that every rider is under pressure. I’ll repeat again that we shouldn’t heap too much blame on the riders. Yes they make mistakes but it’s the systemic failings that really need to be tackled.
But given the quick denial and the sudden reversal, I’m just wondering how much of the truth we’ve got here. It’s simply impossible to crack and take EPO in moment of madness, instead it requires premeditation, knowledge and perseverance.