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Riis confesses to doping

'96 Tour winner says he used EPO

COPENHAGEN -- Former Danish cyclist Bjarne Riis admitted yesterday he used performance-enhancing drugs during his 1996 Tour de France victory, and was asked by cycling's governing body to return the winner's yellow jersey.

"I have taken doping. I have taken EPO," Riis said during a televised news conference. "I have made errors and I would like to apologize.

"My jersey is at home in a cardboard box," said Riis, now manager of the CSC team. "They are welcome to come and get it. "

The International Cycling Union said time limits have expired to take action against Riis, but it "urges the former rider to return his yellow jersey, the symbol of his victory."

Riis confessed to using the blood-booster EPO between 1993-98, and during his Tour victory. It was the latest in a string of doping confessions that have marred the sport's credibility.

Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme wondered if Riis was even fit to lead CSC.

"Bjarne Riis said himself that he did not deserve to have won the Tour in 1996 because he cheated. I think the same thing, because he has soiled the yellow jersey," Prudhomme said in a telephone interview. "Seeing as he did not deserve to win, does he deserve to lead a major cycling team?"

Riis said he also used cortisone and human growth hormone, and that he didn't suffer any side effects from EPO, a blood-boosting hormone.

"The only effect I had was that I rode faster," he said.

Riis's admission came as 2006 Tour winner Floyd Landis was trying to hang onto his yellow jersey and awaited a ruling in his doping case. Landis tested positive for synthetic testosterone and could be stripped of his title and banned for two years if found guilty.

Riis's confession means the top three finishers in the 1996 Tour all have been linked to doping -- and now two have admitted cheating. Runner-up Jan Ullrich retired in February after being implicated in the recent Spanish doping scandal, and third-place rider Richard Virenque was kicked out of the 1998 Tour and later admitted to doping in a court confession. Ullrich has denied using performance-enhancing substances.

Riis's confession came a day after Eric Zabel and Rolf Aldag, two Germans who were support riders for Riis on the Telekom team, admitted using performance-enhancing drugs while riding for the team in the 1990s. They also said they took EPO -- or Erythropoietin -- a synthetic hormone that stimulates the production of oxygen-carrying red blood cells.

Danish rider Brian Holm, another former member of the Telekom team, confirmed Thursday he had taken EPO.

"Now the time has come to put the cards on the table," Riis said as he calmly read a statement before a packed news conference. "I have done things which I have regretted."

The UCI said the confessions were "extremely positive" and urged other riders who used doping to speak out. "The law of silence no longer applies -- each person must now assume the full consequences of their actions," the agency said in a statement.

Riis, the only Dane to have won the Tour de France, has been a national hero in the small Nordic country with a cycling tradition. Until now, he repeatedly denied taking performance-enhancing drugs during his 14-year career as a professional cyclist.

Riis said he will remain with CSC, a Danish team that recently launched what it described as the most rigorous anti-doping program in cycling.

The Italian Olympic Committee has recommended Ivan Basso be banned from cycling for 21 months because of his involvement in the Spanish doping scandal. Basso, the defending Giro d'Italia champion, has confessed to "attempted doping," but said he never went through with it.

In Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged cyclists who used performance-enhancing drugs to come clean.

"The confessions and investigations so far are not sufficient to sort things out," Merkel said in a statement. "All doping sinners now have the chance to be honest and break the cartel of silence, if they want to give their sport the chance of a clean new beginning, free from manipulation."