Gerdemann's anti-doping message promises brighter future for cycling
TIGNES, France: Linus Gerdemann has done more than win a stage and wear the yellow jersey at his first Tour de France. Overnight, he has made himself the sport's latest anti-doping spokesman.
The 24-year-old German, who celebrated his first stage win Saturday with a loud rallying call against doping, is determined to continue preaching for a cleaner — and he hopes eventually a clean — sport.
"We have to go that way otherwise cycling is dead," Gerdemann said Monday — a rest day. "Everyone has to understand that this is the new way, and there are no other possibilities. Cycling has to be clean otherwise there is no future."
Those words triggered varying responses from Tour cyclists and cycling officials.
International Cycling Union president Pat McQuaid found them "very encouraging."
"I think from the UCI point of view it is a very positive sign and a very positive note for the future," McQuaid said Monday. "It has to give a message to the rest of the peloton that you can do it and do it correctly."
Cycling has been staggered by a succession of doping scandals over the past year — from the Operation Puerto case in Spain which saw big names like Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich kicked out on the eve of last year's Tour, to Floyd Landis' positive test for synthetic testosterone which was announced just days after the American rider had won the race last year.
Since then, a growing number of riders have either been suspended, fired, or have confessed to doping — including the Germany's Erik Zabel, who is racing at this year's Tour.
Tour director Christian Prudhomme is now to Zabel and Britain's David Millar — who previously admitted to a doping past — to help clean the sport's soiled image.
"We need guys like him (Zabel), like David Millar to rebuild, to have a reference point with the past," Prudhomme said Sunday. "It's indispensable."
Millar was banned for two years in 2004 and stripped of his 2003 world time-trial title after admitting to using the endurance-booster EPO.
Zabel recently confessed to using the same drug in 1996, when he won the first of six green jerseys as the Tour's best sprinter. He offered on Monday to return the jersey to Prudhomme as a symbol of good faith.
"I have it at home, so the next time when I come to Paris, I try to meet him (Prudhomme)," Zabel said. "I try to do what I can."
Although they disagree on other issues — such as the ProTour — Prudhomme and McQuaid have put aside their differences to form a united stance against doping.
They hope the likes of Millar, Zabel and Gerdemann can span the generation gap by delivering the same message.
In his victory speech Saturday, Gerdemann implored his colleagues to realize that "the old-school way is not the way anymore."
Millar wholly endorsed the statement, who feels there's still too much silence.
"My hat goes off to him. You've got a guy who's willing to take a stance like that," Millar said Sunday. "That's what we need. The older generation aren't doing that are they? They just keep their mouth shut. It's only the younger generation ... I think if you've got a guy like that leading the way, I think it's really good for us."
Millar feels he could help lead cycling away from its darkened image.
"It's up to guys like me and Zabel to talk about what happened to us, and then it's up to the young guys to kind of affirm it in a positive way," Millar said. "It's kind of a two-pronged attack. The guys from the past face up to what they did and deal with it, so that the young guys can move on and create a new cycling. It's a breath of fresh air, him doing a press conference like that."
But Gerdemann's comments were not universally welcomed.
"I think it's a bit strong," British rider Bradley Wiggins said Sunday. "When you've got old guys in the race who've been through this as well and come out the other side. It's certainly not something I would have said."
And at Astana's press conference Monday, the team's media officer began by announcing that the riders would only answer questions about the race — not doping.
The stance comes after a media availability before the July 7 prologue in London where Astana rider Alexandre Vinokourov was bombarded with questions about his relationship with Italian doctor Michele Ferrari.