Has Roy Sentjens really come clean?

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

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.

Footnote
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.

Anonymous September 14, 2010 at 11:58 am

good point about kohl. saybe sentjens was trying to pull the heart strings but he broke the rules and as you say he didn't exactly trip up and land on a syringe by accident. loads of guys face contract pressure, plenty don't cheat.

Anonymous September 14, 2010 at 12:31 pm

Food for thought. I felt sorry for him but reading this you have a point, you can't drive to a pharmacy for this sort of thing. I wonder if he is trying to protect others, like riders and team doctors?

Siocan September 14, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Here's an interesting article about Roy Sentjens, but it's in german.
http://www.radsport-news.com/sport/sportnews_65517.htm

Maybe one important point, in 2005 he got sick. I never heard of this disease, it's called the Guillain-Barré-Syndrome and attacks your nerving systeme. Despite this disease he tried to come back, at any price…

TheInnerRing September 14, 2010 at 1:00 pm

Danke Siocan. I speak a bit of German but others can use http://translate.google.com/ to help with the link.

For all three comments, I suppose I'd try to break down the arguments here. There's a man under pressure and I understand that. But a hard family life or illness doesn't excuse cheating. Maybe it helps explain it…

…But like I say, I don't think we're getting the full story. It's simply illegal to buy EPO in Spain. The chances of driving to Barcelona, finding a pharmacy, buying it and then knowing what to do are tiny. I really doubt he's acting on his own, or at least without advice and tip-offs from others.

david lewis September 14, 2010 at 1:16 pm

My head spins at all this, and sometimes I don't know what to think.

When you think about how long and hard these guys go – thinking Montreal, almost 200km in 5 hours with Gesink doing 42km.h average for the last lap. Damn. These skinny dudes are superhuman … does that mean I think doping is okay. No. But perhaps there is too much racing?

Anyone ever compared, decade to decade, the total number of races, miles, etc. Be interesting to note how much harder, or not, it has become. And I know doping, whatever the drug has been around for a long time.

TheInnerRing September 14, 2010 at 1:26 pm

David, people dope to win the 100m sprint, people cheat their employer, friends and family to win money. It's not the distance or fatigue, it's the prize on offer. Sport is winner-takes-all and the incentives to cheat are big, the guy finishing first takes home most of the money. That's why detection and punishment need to be up to date.

Eric September 14, 2010 at 1:41 pm

This is most interesting. We have a rider making stories of buying EPO just like it is the medicine for banal illness but nobody can buy EPO without criminal or inside help.

But all cycling media take Sentjens history as truth when it cannot be right !

Alex Murray September 14, 2010 at 4:48 pm

Agree there's something of a plausible fiction about Sentjens' version of events. For those of you familiar with British politics it's has the ring of Ron Davies' "badger-watching" followed by a later "moment of madness" when he was caught out by the tabloids.

david lewis September 14, 2010 at 5:10 pm

Yep, very true. Always cheaters. I think they need to stop the BS of 1-2 year bans, or reduced bans for saying "sorry". Time is now to make a one-strike and your are out. Set a date when it begins. Maybe January 1, 2011. After that. Sorry Charlie. Re the other cheats. I often wonder why someone who scams money (Not Bernie Madoff levels) can get 25 years while if I drive drunk and kill someone, I may get a few years. Laws are funny.

cthulhu September 15, 2010 at 4:10 pm

Not to defend Sentjens or his story but claiming is story implausible because it is forbidden by the law is a bit weak. Just because it is forbidden by law or rules doesn't mean it won't happen else we wouldn't be discussing doping right now.
I personally doubt that his story contains all about it but I believe that point is one of the truer ones. Also I think he didn't randomly walk into pharmacies, I think he somehow got some pointers where to ask.

@d.l.: A 2nd chance is fine, but yes the penalties should be harsher. 4 – 2 (not for only talking but if their talking helps to take out some dealers/suppliers/docs) year bans would be more effective.

TheInnerRing September 15, 2010 at 4:14 pm

cthulhu, like I say, they are questions rather than accusations.

It's more I'm saying that the chance of each piece of the story being true is slim, so the chance the whole thing is true could be very small.

No doubt you can buy EPO but what chance you walk into a pharmacy on the second attempt and get lucky? I'm guessing it's small.

Since it is illegal, I wonder if efforts will be made to identify the illegal seller?

Jay T. September 17, 2010 at 6:49 am

Man,

You are one of the best cycling-related writers out there. Found your blog during a Google search a while back, still read it regularly, and I have to say, keep it up! Your commentary and opinions are as good as, if not better than, those found at VeloNews, Cyclingnews, etc.

Bravo!

- Jay

TheInnerRing September 17, 2010 at 9:38 am

Thanks Jay, it's easier to have an opinion without advertisers and the need for access to riders. In my experience, many cycling journalists have opinion, but their job stops them from expressing it.

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