Former Dutch cyclist admits taking EPO

The Hague: Former Dutch cyclist Jeroen Blijlevens has confessed to having used the performance-enhancing drug EPO during his career.

As a consequence Blijlevens, whose confession came Thursday, quit as leader of Dutch cycling team Belkin with immediate effect.

The reason for his decision was the outcome of a recent French Senate investigation into doping in the Tour de France in 1998. The now 41-year-old Blijlevens was named on the list of EPO positives from re-tested 1998 Tour de France samples. The former sprinter won one Tour stage in 1998 and also one in 1995, 1996 and 1997.

In an interview with the Belkin management Blijlevens admitted the use of EPO after which his departure was announced. In a personal letter to Dutch media Thursday he explained his choice for doping during his career.

"With this open letter I want to do my confession which I probably should have done much earlier," Blijlevens wrote. "It is difficult to admit your mistakes. Many people will be disappointed in me, and I respect that."

"There was a lot of talk about the wonder drug EPO in the peloton in the nineties," added Blijlevens, who claims that he rode clean in the Tour of 1995 and 1996.

"In 1997 I decided to start using EPO for the first time in the Tour. This was a stupid decision, but in my opinion a decision I had to make. I felt like I was at a crossroads. I had the choice between taking EPO and ride big races or otherwise it would be difficult to even be an average professional."

Blijlevens was part of the Dutch TVM team at that time. "I have made the choice to start using it and bought the EPO myself," said Blijlevens. "Banned products were never offered to me by the team."

Earlier this year, Blijlevens signed a declaration in which he claimed to have never used doping. The declaration was part of an investigation of the three Dutch cycling teams Blanco (now Belkin), Argos-Shimano and Vacansoleil-DCM and the Dutch cycling union KNWU.

A confession would have resulted in a six-month suspension and therefore Blijlevens decided to deny the use of doping at that time.