If Patrik Sinkewitz is found guilty by the German Cycling Federation (BDR) of breaking anti-doping rules, it will be the second time that he has faced a suspension for doping – and will surely be banned from taking part in professional cycling ever again.
Sinkewitz failed a test for human growth hormone at the GP di Lugano on February 27 this year and has been provisionally suspended by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI). He previously tested positive for abnormal levels of testosterone prior to the 2007 Tour de France, served a one-year ban and returned to cycling in July 2008.
Sinkewitz’s cycling life presents a compelling argument for a lifetime ban for any doping offence.
His notoriety for failing drug tests will for eternity out-strip the scant contents of his palmares – a few minor stage wins and second-tier races.
Sinkewitz’s original high-profile positive – news of which came out during the 2007 Tour de France – brought his T-Mobile team to its knees. Just a few days before, Sinkewitz’s Tour had ended prematurely after he collided with a spectator on his way back to the team hotel and broke his nose.
Earlier that year, former team riders Erik Zabel and Rolf Aldag had confessed to taking EPO during their time with the squad, then called Telekom, in the nineties. That a current rider was also doping came as a crushing blow to a team desperately trying to rebuild itself.
A few months later when the team’s Lorenzo Bernucci tested positive for silbutramine, telecommunications giant T-Mobile withdrew its long-term sponsorship of the team – sick of sponsoring a sport constantly dogged by doping scandals.
German television had had enough too, channels ARD and ZDF suspended their coverage of the 2007 Tour after news of Sinkewitz’s positive and threatened never to show it again.
Despite all of this, the BDR imposed a one-year, rather than the more usual two-year, ban on Sinkewitz after he ‘cooperated with authorities’. He admitted to using Testogel patches to aid recovery and using banned blood-booster erythropoietin (EPO).
The exact nature of his cooperation was never fully revealed but it was later claimed on German television that he had said that Italian Paolo Bettini had supplied him with banned substances when the two of them were team-mates at Mapei and Quick Step.
Bettini quickly denied the claims. Sinkewitz put out a statement claiming that he had never implicated Bettini after the Italian had rung him directly. All of this happened right before the 2007 World Championships in Stuttgart, further battering the image of the sport in Germany.
Bettini’s participation in the championships was thrown into doubt, with the German interior minister and the Mayor of Stuttgart requesting his non-participation. Bettini was, however, cleared by Stuttgart District Court and was free to race.
Reports also surfaced that Sinkewitz had told authorities that several T-Mobile team-mates had travelled to Freiburg clinic during the 2006 Tour to receive blood transfusions. Again, he denied having done so when asked.
All of this – T-Mobile’s withdrawal from team sponsorship, the cancellation of German TV coverage of the Tour, the furore surrounding Bettini and the World Champs in Stuttgart – was directly related to Sinkewitz.
When Sinkewitz’s ban expired in July 2008, he returned to racing with the Czech PSK Whirlpool squad and then found a place on ISD-Neri (now Farnese Vini) the following year.
When Cycling Weekly writer Andy McGrath talked to Sinkewitz during the 2010 Tour of Britain his attempts at asking him about his prior doping offence was met with an agitated ‘it’s all in the past’.
But now it appears it wasn’t all in the past. Sinkewitz’s one-year suspension had absolutely no effect whatsoever. He served his suspension and carried on where he left off.
He is not alone, Italian Riccardo Ricco also re-offended recently after publicly declaring his new-found cleanliness when returning from a suspension. He subsequently nearly killed himself after performing a botched self transfusion using blood stored in his home refrigerator for a month.
The antics of both riders would be laughable if it weren’t so damaging, both to themselves and the sport.
Sinkewitz will no doubt defend himself with the usual array of excuses. It’s the system… he was just trying to make a living… But there are plenty of jobs where you can make a living without pissing off everyone around you.