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Tour winner Riis admits to doping

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LYNGBY, Denmark -- Dane Bjarne Riis has become 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 every day 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."

Asked by a journalist if he was a worthy Tour de France winner, Riis replied: "No, I am not." Riis 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 Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) 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 have 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. It's not up to me to say if he doped or not."

Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme was not reachable by telephone to discuss Riis' admission.

Stone-faced and at times with tears swelling up in his eyes, Riis said he had always regretted using performance-enhancing drugs.

"It's possible that I'm not a hero anymore. 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."

Basso facing 21-month suspension

Meanwhile, Basso is facing a 21-month ban for attempted doping, the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) said on Friday.

CONI'S doping prosecutor asked for the punishment as he deferred the case to the disciplinary commission of the Italian Cycling Federation, who are almost certain to rubber-stamp the request.

Basso, the 2006 Giro D'Italia champion, admitted to attempted doping earlier this month and said he had been implicated in the Operation Puerto blood doping scandal in Spain. However, he denied ever taking performance-enhancing drugs or actually using blood transfusions.

"CONI has asked for Ivan Basso to be disqualified for 21 months, having considered this as a first violation," a statement on CONI's Web site said.

Italian media had speculated that his decision to cooperate with the authorities may lead to a lenient sentence but CONI, which acts as Italy's anti-doping body, has clamped down.

Earlier this month Basso, 29, told a news conference in Milan he was only guilty of an intention to use blood doping.

"It is only attempted doping. In my career I have never used doping substances or transfusions," he said. "I will serve my punishment and return to racing."

He was guilty of violating article 2.2 of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) code concerning "use or attempted use of a prohibited substance or a prohibited method".

CONI's statement on Friday said that as a result of findings relating to Operation Puerto, Basso had also been charged under article 2.6 concerning "possession of prohibited substances and prohibited methods".

Basso was forced to miss last year's Tour de France as one of more than 50 professional riders implicated in Operation Puerto.

The Spanish investigation was launched after police raids in Madrid and Zaragoza found large quantities of anabolic steroids, blood-transfusion equipment and more than 200 bags of blood.


Riis is the latest member of the Telekom team of the 1990s to adnmit to doping.

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