Hein Verbruggen: personification of the Omerta

by Cillian Kelly, creator of Irish Peloton and host on the excellent VeloCast.


Cycling history is littered with scandals. The doping stories test the patience of fans and test the willingness of sponsors to part with cash. They no doubt test the patience of the riders too, both the doping and the non-doping variety. When road racing enters its slumber in winter, the doping stories have less headlines to compete with and tend to bubble to the surface quicker and stay there for longer.

This winter has been no exception, as the Texan who just keeps on giving let us know that former UCI President Hein Verbruggen was complicit in allowing him to escape ejection from the 1999 Tour de France for using an illegal corticosteroid.

Leaving aside Lance Armstrong’s motives for making such a claim (which are almost certainly self-serving), instead let’s focus on Verbruggen and his reply to this allegation:

Since when does one believe Lance Armstrong?”

Anyone could be forgiven for no longer believing anything Armstrong has to say, he is after all, a proven repeated doper and liar. So if Verbruggen is choosing not to entertain Armstrong’s claim, it’s no surprise. But this isn’t the first time that the Dutchman has come out against known dopers and defended his sport.

In 2006, Operation Puerto rocked cycling when some of its biggest names were revealed to be involved in blood doping aided by Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes. The man who started the trail which led to the scandal erupting on the eve of the 2006 Tour de France was the Spaniard Jesús Manzano. In April 2004, not long after Manzano first went public with his claims of doping in his Kelme team, French cycling federation president Jean Pitallier stated that he would not approve of any legal action against Manzano simply for coming clean with doping revelations. Still the UCI President at the time, it was Verbruggen to the rescue against the evil scourge of doping. Manzano may have been ignoring the Omertà and speaking out for the overall benefit of the sport, but he was still a doper.

Verbruggen said: “I was extremely, unhappily surprised by Mr. Pitallier’s statements saying he found it scandalous to sanction Mr. Manzano. Why not sanction a cheater for the simple reason that he decided to talk? We have to remember that it’s the cheaters that are talking. If they’re protected by the directors, we have to ask ourselves some questions”.

In the summer of 2010, Floyd Landis decided to finally come clean about the doping he had partaken in throughout his career. This confession eventually led to the USADA Reasoned Decision which now sees Armstrong banned for life. His confession also included details about a cover up of a test result at the 2001 Tour de Suisse involving Verbruggen and the UCI. Landis’s information about the doping practices of his various teams could help the sport and help to combat doping in the future, but he was still a doper.

Verbruggen said directly to Landis in leaked emails:

Now here comes a person like you (and with your records!) who tells me I am dishonest and even repeats this in public. What mentality one must have to do things like that to other persons?”

Verbruggen does not think that former dopers are worth listening to when they have something to say. A view, no doubt, shared by many.

Conversely then, we should expect that Verbruggen welcomes the input of renowned clean cyclists, shouldn’t we?

In an edition if L’Equipe in January 1997, Verbruggen was asked his opinion of two riders who had recently retired from road racing and who had spoken openly about their knowledge of doping in the peloton, Graeme Obree and Giles Delion:

Verbruggen said: “I am not at all impressed by the testimony of riders like Delion or Obree who are retired and who can no longer keep up in the peloton. I find it cowardly, I have no other word.”

Well, if Verbruggen doesn’t like the opinions on doping of dopers or non-dopers, perhaps he’d be willing to listen to anti-doping campaigners?

In January 2012, Verbruggen formed part of a lawsuit which attempted to sue journalist Paul Kimmage for writing about doping and the allegations of former dopers in an article he had written for the Sunday Times. Kimmage had long been an outspoken voice against doping in the sport and the lack of willingness to address the issue. But Verbruggen didn’t want him addressing the subject either.

So is there no type of person that Verbruggen is willing to tolerate talking about doping?

The answer, it appears, is no.

Verbruggen is the personification of the Omertà which has pervaded the sport throughout its entire history.

The new UCI administration led by Brian Cookson has stated its intention to carry out some sort of independent commission to investigate the problems that cycling has faced. A recent statement from the UCI reads:

The UCI’s Independent Commission of Inquiry is in the process of being set up and we are in advanced discussions with stakeholders on its terms of reference to allow full investigation of any allegations relating to doping and wrongdoing at the UCI.

“The commission will invite individuals to provide evidence and we would urge all those involved to come forward and help the commission in its work in the best interests of the sport of cycling.

“This investigation is essential to the well-being of cycling in fully understanding the doping culture of the past, the role of the UCI at that time and helping us all to move forward to a clean and healthy future.”

An obvious candidate to participate in this process, in order to help clean up the sport he loves so much, is Hein Verbruggen.

When asked about his participation, he replied:

“I have never been afraid of any investigation commission. I will participate in everything and I will be never be found (guilty of) anything.”

Evidently, all Verbruggen is concerned with is avoiding any punishment himself. An appropriately similar attitude to that of a cyclist who is doping.

Verbruggen has been described before as ‘a dinosaur’ whom the sport has moved past and outgrown. But he is not a dinosaur – people like Hein Verbruggen are not extinct. People like Hein Verbruggen are barely even on the endangered species list. The sport is full of them.

It is no longer just the doping stories that are wearisome. It is the attitude of the likes of Verbruggen which perhaps tests the patience of fans, sponsors and riders even more so than the act of doping itself.

We’re tired and we’re weary… and it’s been a long winter.


all opinions stated by writers are those held by the writer individually, and in no way reflect the opinion of crankpunk himself nor any other contributor to the site. however, we probably do all agree on most things, if that helps any…

Author: Lee Rodgers

Cycling coach, race organiser, former professional cyclist and the original CrankPunk.

6 thoughts

  1. The voicemail left by verbruggen to vaughters demonstrates he was active at the top of UCI until 2011 and no doubt part of the decision of UCI deciding not to take such as Jaksche up on his willingness to explain all.

    The message has been obvious for years that UCI had to separate the functions of sport promotion from doping, which can never live under the same roof:
    Notice how McQuaid said of Cooksons plans that they were ” half baked” because “WADA rules forbade it” prompting WADA to issue a press release in contradiction, furher demonstrating UCI had not even asked them. Reality is Hein and his protege Pat WANTED doping in a place they could control the information flow. Mcquaids word ” scumbags” says it all.

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