Mountain bike world champ admits using drugs to win title

Jerome Chiotti came clean on his use of illegal substance to win his 1996 world mountain biking title  Credit: Brian Bahr /Allsport
In a startling interview, professional mountain biker Jerome Chiotti said he used EPO to win the 1996 world mountain bike championships in Cairns, Australia.

I became the World Champion in 96 because I used EPO, Chiotti told French cycling publication Vlo Vert in an interview published April 21.

Knowing that he risks a five-year ban from the sport for drug use, Chiotti said that he spent the equivalent of $6,000 dollars per season on EPO, short for erythropoetin, which increases the red blood cell count and allows a racer to ride harder and longer. The money was "not an enormous sum," according to Chiotti.

Although shocking because it verifies that illegal drugs influenced the most important race in mountain biking, perhaps what was most surprising about the admission was that Chiotti, 28, bothered to say it at all.

A veil of secrecy has cloaked the inner-circle of the professional cycling world, including riders, managers and doctors, over the ongoing doping issue the sport has wrestled since the 1998 Tour de France.

Chiottis open admission is one of the first made by an active professional cyclist. Chiotti currently rides for the GIANT mountain bike team, and was a part-time member of the Festina and Le Groupment road teams from 1995-1997.

GIANT has cut his salary due to poor results over the past two years, and he expects to be dropped from the team if he doesnt make the French Olympic squad this year.

Other cyclists, most notably members of the French Festina team in 1998, have admitted to using EPO and other performance-enhancing drugs, but not until after they were caught.

In explanation for his use of EPO, Chiotti said that he was deeply concerned with the issue of doping in cycling and hoped that his admission would help in the fight against drug use.

The temptation is constant, its a vicious cycle," Chiotti said. "A racer is forced to deal with the situation of either finding some other way of earning a livelihood or of making concessions with ones conscious in order to be competitive.

The French Cycling Federation (FFC), which Chiotti had hoped would support him in his admission, announced one day after the interview that it would take disciplinary action, presumably to strip Chiotti of his world championship and ban him from the sport for a period of time.

"The French Cycling Federation will never support cheaters," its outspoken president, Daniel Baal, told Agency France-Presse.

"We have opened the disciplinary proceedings because it has been imposed on us by the International Cycling Union," Baal said. "Not taking disciplinary action would mean the toleration of things we always have denounced."

In response, Chiotti said that the French Cycling Federation supports cheaters, since if he is suspended, others would be afraid of speaking out about doping in the past.

Two prominent riders who have been accused, but have not yet admitted to drug use are Richard Virenque and Marco Pantani.

So far, each has been tight-lipped and defensive about drug allegations, but each will soon get his day in court.

Virenque and nine other riders from the 1998 Tour de France team are scheduled to go to trial in mid-October for their participation in the systemized use of EPO and other drugs.

Pantani has been accused of sports fraud by an Italian prosecutor for his alleged use of EPO and will also stand trial.

If nothing else, Chiottis troubling admission is a glimmer of light amid the ongoing cloud of accusations, lies, and sadness surrounding cycling.

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