September 28, 2007 (Montreal, QC) – Yesterday evening saw the airing of the second half of the Enquete program by Radio Canada on Genevieve Jeanson, a top cycling star for Canada who admitted to using EPO almost all her career. Much of the program is devoted to questions about the role of her former coach, Andre Aubut, her father, Yves Jeanson, and her physician, Dr. Maurice Duquette.
Aubut, once a physical education teacher, was very driven to see Jeanson win. His ethics are questionable as is his concern for the well-being of his athlete. Yves Jeanson also seemed very driven to see his daughter do well, and we hear him shouting himself hoarse in a vintage home video, encouraging young Genevieve to cycle quickly up a hill. Dr. Duquette says very little in the program and we learn from others that he supplied Jeanson with EPO while she was still an adolescent and that he did not discuss the drug’s health risks with Jeanson’s father.
Was Jeanson a victim in this affair or was she complicit? At the encouragement of her coach and with the support of her father, Jeanson began taking EPO while still a minor at the age of 16, suggesting she was a victim. But she began taking it of her own free will and continued taking the drug extensively until the age of 23, which runs counter to the pattern of a victim.
The program depicts Jeanson as very unhappy while she took EPO despite the wins and the money and the public adoration she experienced. She apparently earned about $1 million by the age of 23. We also learn that it is surprisingly easy to procure EPO – a drug that greatly enhances performances in cycling and other endurance sports – and that it’s also difficult to get caught taking it.
“I lost my joy of living. From the age of 15 to 23, I was dead” explains Jeanson to journalist Alain Gravel before the cameras and microphones of Radio Canada. At times she cries, recounting her miserable life as a professional cyclist. Jeanson’s career was thrown into suspense after testing positive for EPO in Pennsylvania in 2005 and then ended definitively when she announced her retirement in December 2006.
Jeanson, who started winning medals in cycling competitions at age 13, was often tired during training. This was later diagnosed as anaemia (commonly a red blood cell deficiency). At age 16, in the company of her father, Yves Jeanson and her coach, Andre Aubut, she visited the office of Dr. Maurice Duquette to discuss the use of EPO, a drug that increases the patient’s red blood cell count and is sometimes indicated for anaemia, but which is a banned substance in athletic competitions. Duquette apparently injected her with the drug many times and subsequently Jeanson continued with the injections herself. We learn that she also slept in a hypoxic tent, but only at the beginning of her career.
Yves Jeanson recounts how, “My daughter suffered from EPO, I mean anemia” It is revealed that he didn’t ask Duquette if EPO could be dangerous. EPO, which increases red blood cell counts, enhances the delivery of oxygen to muscles but at a cost of thickening one’s blood. Jeanson compares it to having molasses in your veins. She was afraid that the drug would kill her. Aubut on the other hand, minimizes the health risks of taking EPO, equating it with vitamin C.
Enquete interviewed French rider, Laurent Roux (formerly of Jean Delatour), who wore the Polka Dot jersey (best climber) at the 2001 Tour de France. Roux, who failed a doping test for amphetamines in 2002, admits to taking banned substances – including EPO – throughout his career, and explains why he took it: “With EPO, your muscles don’t burn. You can breathe regularly on hill climbs. And the recovery is ten or 20 times faster with EPO; you can do a 200km stage in the mountains and when you wake up the next morning, your legs don’t even hurt! I was subjected to perhaps 100 anti-doping tests during my career. (note: Roux also failed a doping test in 1999, but it is unclear if that was for EPO or another banned substance).
Jeanson also was subjected to perhaps 50 to 100 controls before testing positive for EPO in Pennsylvania in 2005. She previously tested positive for elevated hematocrit levels at the Road Worlds in Hamilton, Ontario in 2003 but was cleared of any doping infraction, and missed a doping control in Belgium. Experts interviewed on the program admit that the drug has a short half-life and is difficult to detect. They also suggest that only clumsy cheaters get caught by anti-doping controls – the rest slip through.
The question is raised that if the doping controls don’t stop cyclists from doping who or what will stop them – the athletes themselves, coaches, parents, doctors, or sponsors?
Jeanson describes herself as being caught in the machinery. “I wanted to change my life, but I didn’t have the guts. I hated my lifestyle.”
We learn that Aubut was not paid a salary per se for coaching, but that Jeanson split her sponsorships with him. This made him very motivated to see her win and Jeanson claims he argued with her when she wanted to quit cycling. She also describes him as a violent man, relating an incident where he dragged her into the Arizona desert and punched her.
Yves Jeanson also admits to knowing that his daughter’s declarations during her cycling career, about not ever taking EPO, were a lie, “but it’s not a parent’s role to denounce their kids. The father also claims he believed for a while that his daughter had stopped taking EPO, accepting her version of events that the doping control in Hamilton in 2003 was a false positive. Jeanson’s mother was less enthusiastic about her daughter’s cycling career.
Dr. Duquette is involved with a complicated disciplinary hearing at the Quebec College of Physicians and Surgeons over the Jeanson affair and revealed little of what happened with the cyclist.
Officials from Rona, her team sponsor, admit to not asking enough questions and being fooled by Jeanson.