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Too Little, Too Late

Samuel Abt Tekst Samuel Abt Gepubliceerd 30 January 2020

Truth will out, they say, and generally it seems to. Sometimes, though, after a long period of making its way into the cleansing light, truth has become so distant that it is stale, meaningless, even pathetic. Case in point: Rudy Pevenage.  

Remember the name? We’re referencing not the Pevenage, the former Belgian sprinter, who was good enough to capture the Tour de France points jersey in 1980 but the Pevenage who helped direct the Telekom team from 1994 to 2002 and served as guardian angel and enabler-in-chief for the meteoric, doped, and troubled Jan Ullrich. The focus is on the woke Pevenage who has just written his confessional autobiography, Der Rudy, available only in Flemish.

Photo: Cor Vos

The book is unlikely to make it into translations since the reviews of its extracts in the Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws have not been encouraging. The French and Italian press brushed it off with a few paragraphs; the Spanish and British reaction is unsighted.

No surprise there since the timing of the book is laughable. Who, in the last ten years, hasn’t heard everything Pevenage has to say now?

The doping “secrets” he “exposes” are old news to anybody who has read Tyler Hamilton’s The Secret Race or heard Lance Armstrong’s and Bjarne Riis’s confessions.

Blood bags hidden in milk cartons and soda cans with false bottoms? Please…been there, knew that. Ditto Eufemiano Fuentes and his Madrid laboratory full of blood bags. And bungled police raids.  Pevenage  should have titled the book Too Little, Too Late.  (Note to marketing department: Look into this. Might work.)

Blood bags hidden in milk cartons and soda cans with false bottoms? Please…been there, knew that.

Retired for a decade, he explains the delay in speaking out as “I’m no longer afraid of reactions or remarks,” adding that “I wanted to wait until Jan Ullrich’s legal problems were over. I’ve also been sick” with cancer of the throat “and that makes you revaluate many things.”

Ullrich figures prominently in this account, of course. He and his consigliere Pevenage were so tight that Spanish wiretapping files of Fuentes’s Operacion Puerto warehouse showed that Ullrich’s code name was “Rudy’s son.”  That sounds apt: the Belgian is now 65 years old, the German 47.

They began collaborating in 1995. Pevenage had a fair record as a rider, a winner in a handful of Flemish races, that points jersey and a stage in the Tour de France, second place in the 1979 Tour of Switzerland. After he retired in 1988 with Superconfex he served as an assistant directeur sportif with Histor and La William before joining, in 1994, Telekom.

A year later Ullrich turned pro with that German team, began working under Pevenage’s wing and in 1996 became the rising star. No! the risen star: After finishing second to Riis in the ’96 Tour, Ullrich finished first in 1997.

Thereafter, despite victories in the Vuelta, the Olympics, and the world championships, he became known primarily as the eternal second to Armstrong in the Tour. (How in the world does a virtuoso peak at 24, an age when Shakespeare was still writing potboilers and Stravinsky practicing his scales?)

The easy answer is Armstrong, injury, and the good life.  Ullrich loved the good life, eating his way during many an offseason into ten kilograms of midriff blubber. “The Baby Blimp,” other riders called him. I mocked him in print, saying that Telekom bought his jerseys in the Stylish Stout size.

Photo: Cor Vos

Pevenage brushed off any concerns. His red hair turned grey before it mostly evaporated, his weight ballooning in Ullrich’s company. Pevenage remained what he had been as a sprinter: a battler, not a finesse guy. That persona endures in Der Rudy.

“Those who didn’t cheat between 1995 and 2005 didn’t win. It’s that simple,” he says. “Any rider or directeur sportif who was around at that time and says he wasn’t involved is a liar. What we did at Telekom was amateurish compared to the Armstrong clan.”

(“It all happened so slowly and organically,”  Hamilton told ESPN’s Bonnie Ford. “You start out tiptoeing through a little bit of mud and before you know it, you’re up to your neck.”)

Pevenage also issued a warning about Fuentes, “still a good pal with whom I spent some time a few weeks ago. If some people are upset by my book, they will be a lot more if Fuentes tells his story.  And I can tell you that he really wants to.”

Would that book be as unsurprising as Der Rudy? Possibly not, even though the Puerto case is 15 years old and Fuentes has consistently been shielded by Spanish political officials. The word on the street is that he provided fresh blood, and thus oxygen, to the tired muscles of not only bicycle racers but also soccer stars.

Spanish teams, among the best in the world, have had plenty of stars. Of public doping charges, nary a one.