By Mark Jones
DUBLIN — Stephen Roche has rejected allegations that he ever took the banned performance-enhancing drug erythropoetin (EPO) following revelations last weekend in Irish Sunday newspapers.
Both the Sunday Times and the Sunday Tribune reported the contents of two files that the papers claimed linked the former Tour de France winner to a doping investigation currently being carried out in Italy.
According to the files, which were seized by the Italian authorities from the offices of an Italian sports doctor, Professor Francesco Conconi, Roche and his Carrera teammates were allegedly part of an EPO experiment conducted by Conconi in 1992 and ’93.
Roche insisted that he had never taken EPO or participated in any experiment conducted either by Conconi or Giovanni Grazzi, who was the team doctor at Carrera.
"I know I was clean throughout my career, so I sleep well at night," he later told the Irish Independent. "I have wracked my brains to come up with some possible reason for my name appearing in those files and I simply cannot. I have to try and get to the bottom of it."
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When the files were seized as part of a criminal investigation into the activities of Conconi, the contents of one file entitled "EPO" were leaked to the press. Roche’s name, and that of several other top cyclists, including Claudio Chiappucci, Gianni Bugno, Maurizio Fondriest and Rolf Sorensen, were included in the file.
In the file, Roche is given code names such as Rocchi, Rossi, Rocca and Rossini and the results of blood tests attributed to the code names are alleged to indicate EPO use.
"I’m completely mystified, the results don’t make any sense to me," said Roche, who now lives in the south of France. "If the reporters involved in writing the story could explain the figures to me, I’d be obliged if they would."
Figures in a second file purport to show that during the 1993 Tour de France, Roche had a h’matocrit (red cell concentration in blood) level in excess of 50 percent. Any cyclist producing such a reading today would be barred from competing on health grounds.
Conconi and a number of doctors connected to him are facing charges of administering products that are dangerous to health. In 1993, Conconi, whose laboratory was financed by the Italian Olympic Committee, revealed that he was researching a method of detecting EPO, a banned drug that can significantly enhance an athlete’s performance by increasing the number of red cells in the blood.
Conconi said that as part of his efforts to find a way of detecting EPO, 23 amateur athletes had taken the drug and he was monitoring their blood.
Coincidentally, the "EPO" file recently seized from Conconi’s office by Italian police also contained the name of 23 athletes, but the only amateur was Conconi himself, who was a prominent veteran cyclist. The other 22 were top-class international athletes, among them Roche.