Trial in Cofidis affair opens window into cycling's doping culture

Pressure to succeed at any cost. "Magic legs" powered by the banned endurance-boosting drug EPO. Code language used to evade investigators.
With cycling already embroiled in doping scandals, a French trial this week is exposing details of the secretive underworld in which riders cheat to gain an edge.
British rider David Millar, the most prominent cyclist among 10 people on trial involving the French team Cofidis, said he first used EPO in 2001, at a time of intense demands on his performance.
"You dope because you're a prisoner of yourself, of glory and of money," he told a court in Nanterre, west of Paris. "I became someone I didn't want to meet."
Doping has plagued cycling for years but has hit the sport particularly hard in 2006. A Spanish doping investigation led to nine riders _ including pre-race favorites Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich _ being barred from the Tour de France.
The Tour winner, Floyd Landis, tested positive for excessive levels of testosterone and is no longer considered the champion by race organizers. He denies doping and is contesting the charges.
Cycling's governing body, UCI, has announced plans to consider mandatory DNA testing on pro riders next season.
The Cofidis case centers on Polish former team physiotherapist Boguslaw Madejak. Investigators say they intercepted phone calls in which Madejak and two Polish cyclists appeared to speak in code about trafficking doping substances.
In many ways, the weeklong trial is shaping up as an indictment of the culture of doping in cycling: The defendant riders have all acknowledged doping practices.
Millar, in court Tuesday, said cycling teams "have an ostrich policy when it comes to doping." At Cofidis, he said, the expectation was: "'Get results. As for the rest, do what you have to.'"
The seven cyclists on trial are charged with "acquiring and possessing banned substances." The other three defendants _ Madejak, a team technician, and a pharmacist _ are accused of supplying them.
The trial is expected to wrap up with closing arguments Friday. The defendants each face up to five years in prison and fines of euro75,000 (US$95,200) if convicted.
Millar, who served a two-year drug ban, has become one of the most outspoken advocates against doping in the sport. He favors an amnesty for riders who come clean.
The prosecutor in his trial recognized Millar's contribution to the fight against doping and requested Thursday that he be acquitted. Prosecutors requested convictions for the other nine defendants.
In the hearing, Millar described how he traveled in August 2001 to the Italian home of then-teammate Massimiliano Lelli and learned how to inject EPO into his shoulder
"Everybody pushed me on the Cofidis team ... all I wanted to do was go home," he said, referring to his withdrawal from the Dauphine Libere in eastern France weeks earlier. "For me, it was a bit of torture."
Millar described how EPO was so strong that it made him feel alert after four hours of sleep, and how he took sleeping pills to counteract that effect.
Presiding Judge Ghislaine Polge quoted Millar's transcribed testimony to investigators during the probe as saying how riders seemed to have "magic legs when doped."
After taking doping products three times from 2001 to 2003, Millar was barred from the Tour and handed a two-year ban in 2004 after police found syringes containing traces of EPO in his home in southern France.
In court, Millar said he had kept the syringes in a bookshelf as a "trophy" testifying to the shame he felt _ and how he vowed not to use EPO again.
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Associated Press writer Samuel Petrequin contributed to this report.