Danish pro cyclist Bjarne Riis calls it quits

Train at a low heart-rate for a long time to burn fat  Credit: Pascal Rondeau/Allsport UK
Only three years after winning the 1996 Tour de France Denmark's Bjarne Riis announced his retirement. News of Riis' retirement came as little surprise since injuries had reduced the Danish champion to a shell of his previous self.

But unlike many Tour de France winners, Riis' retirement will bring little fanfare from the European cycling community as doping suspicions hang heavy over his head.

After spending much of his early years as a workhorse for stars like Frenchman Laurent Fignon, Riis reached full maturity riding for Italian teams such as Ariostea and Gewiss.

After finishing fifth in the 1993 Tour de France, he then finished third in 1995, before dominating the 1996 Tour and bringing an end to Miguel Indurain's reign as the Tour's top dog.

As doping scandals erupted in the late 1990's, however, Riis' rise came under increasing scrutiny. He was a key member of the Gewiss team which was serviced by the highly suspect Dr. Ferrari, today under investigation as a one of the kingpins to a professional sports drug chain.

In 1999 Danish television broadcast a documentary on drug use in cycling entitled "The Law of Silence," which showed tubes of EPO in the Gewiss Hotel and maintained that Riis' hematocrit level in the 1995 Tour de France was over 56 percent.

At the time, there were no hematocrit tests in cycling, but when they were installed 1997 anything over 50 percent was considered to be a sign of EPO abuse.

And in Willy Voet's controversial book Assembly Line Massacre, which also came out last year, the author states that during his 1996 Tour victory Riis was nicknamed "Mr. 60 percent," as his competitors suspected his hemocrit level was at 60 percent.

Unjust as it may seem, Riis is already guilty in the eyes of many. Such prejudice is regrettable since Riis never tested positive for drug use. But then the real tragedy of all of the doping scandals that have infected cycling in recent years is that fans have come to question any outstanding performances. And Riis will go down as one of the principal targets of such suspicion.

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