Cape Town - South African cycling champion David George has admitted he used the banned drug Erythropoietin (EPO) and said he was prepared to suffer the consequences.
“I will not be asking for a B sample to be tested as I know the result will ultimately be the same. I fully understand the consequences of my admission and will bear the results of this,” he said on Tuesday.
George tested positive for EPO in an out-of-competition test conducted by the SA Institute for Drug-Free Sport (Saids) on August 29.
“Cycling, as you know, has been a confusing space and although it has given me incredible moments it has also given me experiences that no person or young athlete should have to go through,” he said.
“I would like to apologise to my sponsors, who have given me every opportunity to chase a dream, and teammates, for whom I have the utmost respect.
“I will endeavour to make right where humanly possible,” said George, who is one of South Africa’s top cyclists and a former Olympian. Together with teammate Kevin Evans he came second in this year’s Absa Cape Epic.
His most recent high-profile victory, alongside Evans, was in the 2012 Bridge Cape Pioneer Trek mountain bike race last month, where they pocketed R125 000 for winning the race.
George had also cycled with now disgraced Lance Armstrong on the US Postal Service Cycling team in 1999-2000.
Evans could not be reached. His mother, Carol, said: “He is not talking to anyone about it. He is a bit freaked out.”
Absa Cape Epic founder Kevin Vermaak said the race committee would consult lawyers and Cycling SA (CSA) and Saids to determine what to do about titles and R142 500 in prize money George and his Team, 360Life, had won in this year’s race.
“It is a shock. George is a convert to mountain biking from road cycling. Mountain biking gave him a chance to restart his career after a European road career that was starting to taper off.
“Many SA mountain bikers might feel that he has let down the sport that gave him a second chance in his cycling career.
“It is a sad day for South African mountain biking,” Vermaak said on the Absa Cape Epic website.
Professional cyclist Robbie Hunter said: “What he did does not do the sport any favour at all. It is tarnishing the image of cycling. David is one of South Africa’s greatest cyclists and what he has done has damaged his whole career.”
Hunter said George’s use of a banned drug was an act of stupidity and that he was likely to be stripped of titles he had won recently.
EPO is a hormone that increases the red blood cell count, thereby increasing the athlete’s oxygen-carrying capacity and enhancing performance.
“The drug is especially beneficial in endurance sports where athletes are competing over long distances in sports like cycling, running and triathlon,” Saids chief executive Khalid Galant said.
“We had warned the sports community a year ago that we would be vigorous in our testing of both blood and urine of our top athletes. We will continue to aggressively target EPO dopers,” said Galant.
Upon receiving the news of the positive test, CSA immediately suspended George from competing in any sanctioned event, while Nedbank and Scott bicycles have suspended their sponsorship of Team 360Life.
CSA president William Newman said they would wait for the Saids hearing before commenting on the possible punishment George could face.