COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Dane Bjarne Riis on Friday became the first rider to admit having used performance enhancing drugs while winning the Tour de France.
Riis, who won the race in 1996, said he used drugs between 1993 and 1998.
“I have taken doping, I have taken EPO,” Riis told a news conference. “I purchased it myself and I took it myself. It was a part of everyday life as a rider.”
Previously, Riis had denied using the blood-boosting substance erythropoietin (EPO).
“I’m proud of my results even though they were not completely honest,” he said. “I’m coming out today to secure the right future for the sport.”
He went on to allege that former Telekom boss Walter Godefroot turned a blind eye to the drug use in the team.
Pat McQuaid, president of the International Cycling Union (UCI), the sport’s governing body, said Riis would not be stripped of his Tour de France title.
“The eight-year statute of limitations has expired,” McQuaid told German sports news agency SID. “We’re not going to rewrite the history now.”
Nevertheless, the UCI called on Riis to give back the yellow jersey he was awarded as Tour winner in 1996.
“Despite the time limits for sanctions established by the World Anti-Doping Code having elapsed, the UCI urges the former rider to return his yellow jersey, the symbol of his victory,” it said in a statement.
Riis is now the sporting director of cycling team CSC, which last year parted ways with Giro d’Italia winner Ivan Basso when Basso was implicated in a Spanish police probe into blood doping by a group of doctors in Madrid.
Germans Erik Zabel and Rolf Aldag, who rode for Telekom when team leaders Riis and German Jan Ullrich won the Tour de France in 1996 and 1997 respectively, admitted on Thursday to using EPO in the mid-1990s.
Three other German Telekom riders and two team doctors admitted to doping at the team earlier this week.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the wave of confessions by Germans this week had not gone far enough.
“The systematic manipulation reached inconceivable dimensions,” she said. “All doping sinners now have the chance to come clean and tell the truth — and end the wall of silence if they want to give their sport a chance for a clean, new start.”
The UCI echoed the sentiment, saying in its statement: “(We) urge all other riders who have doped and any other people who have encouraged them, anywhere in the world, to speak out too.”
No test for EPO existed until 2000. Ullrich retired from racing last month and has previously denied using illegal substances.
“I have no proof that Jan doped,” Riis said. “When I used doping, I did it on my own and never together with Jan Ullrich. It doesn’t matter to me if he used doping or not. Ask him directly yourself. And it’s not up to me to say if he doped or not.”
Ullrich’s manager, Wolfgang Strohband, said on Friday that Ullrich planned to make a statement about his past.
“Jan will make a statement,” Strohband told Die Welt newspaper in an article to appear on Saturday. “It’s still undecided in which form, whether a news conference or announcement on his Web site.”
Last year’s Tour winner, Floyd Landis, is battling the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency in court in an attempt to keep his title after his urine tests proved positive for a synthetic form of the male hormone testosterone.
Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme was not reachable by telephone to discuss Riis’s admission.
Riis, stone-faced and at times with tears swelling up in his eyes, said he had always regretted using performance-enhancing drugs.
“It’s possible that I’m not a hero any more,” he said. “I’m sorry if I’ve disappointed people. And for those for whom I was a hero, I’m sorry. They’ll have to find new heroes now.”
Additional reporting by Erik Kirschbaum in Berlin and Stephen Farrand in Santuario di Oropa, Italy