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Taking drugs felt 'natural', says former Tour winner Riis

The Dane believes Pantani lacked the necessary support to overcome his drug addiction.

Danish cycling team Saxo Bank team manager Bjarne Riis.
Danish cycling team Saxo Bank team manager Bjarne Riis.
Image: PASCAL PAVANI/AFP/Getty Images)

FORMER TOUR DE FRANCE winner Bjarne Riis has spoken openly about using drugs throughout his professional career.

The Dane, who won the 1996 Tour de France but later confessed to taking banned substances, spoke at the launch of his autobiography and admitted it felt natural to take performance enhancing drugs.

“As a young rider at that time, I think it has been something that naturally came to the sport because it was a part of the history,” Riis said. ”I remember, at the time when I had to give myself an injection for the first time — and that was not doping — that was just an injection of vitamins.

“I sat there for hours and couldn’t bring myself to do it. It was the first step to maybe something else. That’s a very hard decision and a decision that can change your life, maybe forever who knows.

“But when you just get started, you don’t reflect on it. It’s a part of that life and a part of that culture, and everybody else is doing it. After a while you think it is just natural. You don’t really think about it being wrong. Then it’s too late when you figure out that it is wrong and a bad thing.”

Riis also expressed regret at the death of 1998 Tour de France winner Marco Pantani, who died of a cocaine overdose eight years ago. Riis believes Pantani lacked the necessary support to overcome his drug addiction.

“At the end of the day, I don’t know if I could have helped him.  Maybe nobody could have helped him because perhaps he didn’t want to be helped,” Riis said. ”I think he had too many people around him just saying ‘yes’ to him and just pleasing him.

“For a guy like that, that is the worst thing you could do, because if you have a guy with a weak personality then you need to guide him, control him and tell him what to do and what not to do, and not always say ‘yes’.”

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