Kimmage: Mystery mixed with truth on the road to Paris
The 1989 Tour was Johannes Draaijer's sporting pinnacle
Published 17/08/2014 | 17:00
What killed Johannes Draaijer? There's no mystery. It's called Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndrome, a genetic heart condition that can cause death in young and healthy people. That's how Johannes died. He was sleeping. He suffered a heart attack. There's no mystery.
And yet . . .
People are afraid. People he grew up with, people he would have regarded as brothers and friends, seem terrified by the mention of his name. Some talk off the record. Some say nothing or refuse to take a call. And five months after meeting his widow, Annalisa, and our visit to his grave, I am no closer to making sense of any of it.
Then she shows me her attic.
It happens, unexpectedly, on a warm afternoon in May when I return to her home frustrated after another wild goose chase and happen to mention a diary she made reference to in an old interview with L'équipe. She beckons me upstairs to a small study and reaches for the small, fold-up ladder above the door.
I follow her up the steps and into the roof and she nods towards the mountain of stuff in the corner:
His race helmet.
Two boxes of PDM jerseys and shorts, still in their wrappers.
"I haven't touched this stuff in 24 years," she says.
I open his wash bag and examine the contents: five brown 'kokker' pots, some safety pins (for his numbers), some pills, a small wallet with some papers, a telephone receipt (43 francs) from a hotel in Arles 20 days before he died, some photos of Annalisa, a small piece of paper with Greg LeMond's phone number, his racing licence, a page with the contact numbers and addresses of all his team-mates at PDM.
I want to cry.
In December 1988, six months after his team had lost narrowly to them at the European Championship, Jack Charlton was invited to a glitzy ceremony in the Netherlands for their Sportstar of the Year awards. The Republic of Ireland manager had been asked to present the 'Team' award and there was no great surprise at the Spant Theatre in Bussem when he delivered it to the European Champions.
Marco van Basten, the star of Euro '88, was expected to make it a double and take the individual award but when the drums rolled and the lights were dimmed, it was a tall blond cyclist with piercing eyes who was invited to take the stage.
Steven Rooks had finished second in the Tour de France that summer, won the stage to Alpe d'Huez (the 'Dutch' mountain) and become the first Dutchman ever to claim the King of the Mountains title. He was sitting beside Van Basten when the decision was announced and could not have been more surprised. "He had scored five goals at the European Championships that year and when the speaker called out my name I thought, 'They must have made a mistake'."
Twelve years later, Rooks would become one of the first Dutch cycling stars to confess to having doped during his career. In January 2013, a Dutch newspaper (de Volkskrant) photographed the notebook of his former soigneur, Bertus Fok, and published a detailed account of the substances that eight out of the nine riders on his team had used during the Tour when he was Sportstar of the Year:
It was into this crazy world in 1988 that Johannes Draaijer turned professional; Steven Rooks was the team leader; PDM was the team. In 1989, they raced the Tour de France together and seven months later, Johannes was dead . . .
It's a pleasant summer's evening at the Van der Valk hotel in Eindhoven and Rooks has joined me in the restaurant.
But when the drums rolled and the lights were dimmed, it was a tall blond cyclist who was invited to take the stage
"What about Johannes?" I ask. "Annalisa doesn't know if he was doping."
He looks at me but does not reply.
"Do you know?"
"But there was a lot of doping on the team," I press.
"Not in that year."
"Not in '89?"
"No. Doctor Janssen was my doctor. For me, he was a very good doctor but I don't know what other people were doing. I discussed everything with him and he was not doing crazy things. In '90, there was a different doctor - it changed a lot, I don't know why. But before that it was normal."
When we started PDM we decided that we would not be the most ethical team in the peloton. The one rule imposed by the PDM directors was that there was to be no drug affairs, rather than no drug-taking. Within this direction we experimented with products that were just within the edge of legality, just like in other sports. We were not doing anything the other teams were not doing.
- Manfred Krikke, 1997
Andy Bishop is very precise about the first time he shook hands with Johannes Draaijer. It happened on May 13, 1987 in the Czechoslovakian town of Most after the Dutchman had won the fifth stage of the Peace Race, the toughest amateur stage race in the world. Bishop was three years younger than Draaijer, and riding for the US national team but could not have been more impressed.
"I remember him winning," he says. "The stage went up this hill and finished on this race track and I was like 'Wow!' At that point, the Russians and East Germans were the kings of the peloton and I think he was the first non-Eastern European to win a stage that year."
A day later, Draaijer returned the compliment when Bishop won the sixth stage to Prague. Seven months later, they were team-mates at PDM when Steven Rooks, Greg LeMond and the '88 team was presented to the press in Brussels.
"It had an American theme, I think they served hamburgers," Bishop says. "I met Johannes again and my first impressions then, and always, was how really sweet he was.
"Some of the other guys - Marc van Orsouw and Frank Kersten - were really boisterous and outgoing but Johannes just went about his job and didn't say a lot about what was on his mind. The goal for PDM was to win the Tour, they had tried it with Delgado in '87 but he had left and gone to Reynolds."
The Philips DuPont Magnetics professional cycling team was founded in 1986 and was a joint sponsorship venture between the electronics giant Philips and the DuPont chemical company. A big budget team with big ambitions, that first season was a mess but results improved in '87 when a new general manager arrived at the helm.
Manfred Krikke was an accomplished organiser and businessman and had cut his teeth in the Dutch army as a Green Beret. "In Roosendaal (where the Green Berets were stationed) I was driving a jeep one day and suddenly the whole windscreen was full of blood. And then I realised that it was my blood. The guy beside me had thought his Sten gun was unloaded and had shot me through the knee.
"I had some problems with it, and couldn't bend it for a long time so I got a bike with a fixed wheel so that I had to pedal whether I liked it or not. When I was 40, it was better and I started biking again. I liked cycling, and sponsored some riders on the side and was asked by one of the top guys in Philips to organise the team. I looked at it and made a plan and it started working well."
Quality was the cornerstone of Krikke's success: PDM would set a gold standard in the peloton and employ only the best - the best riders, the best staff, the best bikes, the best equipment. Roy Schuiten, the team manager, was replaced by Jan Gisbers. Pedro Delgado, the team leader, was replaced by Greg LeMond.
The gold standard would also be applied to how the riders were treated medically. Krikke was uncomfortable with the old tradition of soigneurs acting like surgeons and under the new system Bertus Fok, the head soigneur, would cede control in all things medical to Peter Janssen, a talented and ambitious sports doctor from Deurne.
"I think we might have been the first to have a doctor on the team," Krikke says. "I thought it would add to the health of the sport. I wanted the doctor to have control of the team and for Jan Gisbers to work with the doctor; I wanted the soigneurs to do what they were supposed to do, and no more than that."
But this deep-rooted tradition would take time to change.
Andy Bishop's debut with the team felt like a slap in the face. He was a long way from Tucson, hated the wind and rain and was crashing in almost every race. And then there was the doping. His first experience happened a month into the season, in March 1988.
"When I turned pro, I thought doping was drinking six expressos," he says. "But then I'd go to these smaller races, these semi-classics, and you would all be getting ready in the same area and hear, 'Oh, there's no control today.'
"A lot of the riders had their own personal briefcase (to store drugs) and you'd see them giving themselves shots. Did I see my team-mates do that type of stuff? Yeah. But not everybody did it. And not everybody did it for every race. But they weren't embarrassed by it. It (their attitude) was, 'What? You don't have a briefcase!'"
Another problem was 'the kokkers', the small bottles of pills dispensed by the soigneurs before every race. "They were all different sizes and shapes and it was, 'Take this one at 100k to go, this one at 50k to go and this one at 25k' and I'd ask, 'Well, why? What is this?'
'They all had them. If you looked at any Dutch or Belgian rider, they had them in their pockets'
"And they'd say, 'Well this is vitamin 6 and this is caffeine and this is some other vitamin' and I'd ask, 'So how is that going to help me with 25k to go?' But they all had them. If you looked at any Dutch or Belgian rider, they had them in their pockets."
Doctor Janssen's clinic in Deurne was a refuge from the storm. "It was more my style," he says. "Science versus 'Hey, we've always done this!' It was the first time I had done lactate threshold testing. He would put you on the trainer, and instead of using a respirator like we did with the US national team, he'd do a finger prick at three-minute intervals. And then he'd test your blood to see if you were deficient in anything."
Bishop's form improved with the weather as March rolled into June and after a solid performance in the Tour of Switzerland, he was drafted into the nine-man team to support Rooks (LeMond was out of form) at the Tour de France. He finished 135th and completely drained but the team performed brilliantly: second overall (Rooks), two stage wins (Rooks, Van der Poel), King of the Mountains (Rooks), Combination winner (Rooks) and best team.
He had no idea that most of his team-mates were doping, and doesn't know who, if anyone, was directing it. Krikke remembers a blowout after Gert-Jan Theunisse tested positive. "Peter Janssen wasn't happy," he says. "He came to me one night and said, 'The soigneurs want to do this and that, but the doctor is supposed to have medical control of the riders.'"
Bishop is more interested in the bottom line. "The fucking cheaters!" he says. "The irony was that I came within two minutes of being eliminated by my own team-mates (Rooks and Theunisse had finished 1-2) on Alpe d'Huez!"
Bishop was empty for the rest of the season, but looked to '89 as a chance to regroup. The team had signed three top riders - Seán Kelly, Raul Alcala and Martin Earley - during the winter and the competition for places was fierce. He raced well in March but felt jaded again in April and after a blood test in Deurne, he knew he had reached a crossroads when Janssen advised a course of testosterone.
"There was no iron hammer," he says. "They didn't say, 'You either take this or you're not getting paid.' It was, 'Your levels are really low, much lower than a person on the street, and we suggest you use testosterone to bring you back.' It was the deciding point in my doping career. I took the vial home and thought, 'Do I do this?'
"Because it's not like taking a vitamin or iron or something you have to get from external sources but it was easy to rationalise: 'All it's doing is bringing you back to normal, healthy levels,' and I think that's where it starts for a lot of riders but I determined it was doping and decided not to take it."
Nine months had passed since Bishop had finished the Tour de France but he knew, deep down, that his career at PDM was over. But as his star began to fall, another was starting to rise.
A letter from Peter Janssen to Johannes Draaijer after his first test with the doctor on November 23, 1987:
"Your condition is good at 69.78. Your body fat percentage is excellent at 11%. You have only used iron and Supradyne. The heart film looks good.
Normal ranges. Serum iron value is on the low side of the normal range with 12.4 (normal range is 10 - 30). Hormones seem to be working well. (Normal cortisol levels and testosterone levels)
Good base condition but you can get a lot better
Starting in December train regularly and follow a power training regime.
Take an iron capsule 3 times a week and a multi-vitamin supplement like Totaforte 4 times a week.
If you have any questions, call."
* * * * *
A letter from Peter Janssen to Johannes Draaijer after his second test with the doctor on March 11, 1988:
"Your condition has improved immensely from 69.78 to 82.45. The body fat percentage is good at 10,5%. Trained duration athletes have a body fat percentage between 10 and 12%. In the summer months you will come down below 10%.
Cortisol at rest is reasonably high. Cortisol does not increase after exertion. Testosterone is a bit low. The free testosterone is not within the normal range. If I look at these values, I suspect that the blood sample after exertion has been switched with someone else's at the lab. The low testosterone score should continue to be monitored. But I understand from you that you feel great and have no problems with recovery.
Prime condition. Improved immensely. Blood tests are good.
Continue monitoring testosterone values."
* * * * *
A letter from Peter Janssen to Johannes Draaijer after his third test with the doctor on May 18, 1988:
These test results are outstanding. Very high condition score at 88.96. The body fat percentage is great at 9.6%. Well trained duration athletes are around 10-12% and cyclists often come down below that. That being said, each athlete has his ideal weight and body fat percentage. Steven Rooks rarely gets above 6% and Gerrie Knetemann rarely gets under 12%.
Your lab results are good. There are no signs of anemia. The hemoglobin score is just within the normal range. Iron and the ferritin scores are normal. Continue taking iron 3 times a week. The somewhat high urea score and the CPK (creatine phosphokinase) score are signs that you are not completely recovered from the last exertion."
* * * * *
A letter from Peter Janssen to Johannes Draaijer on June 24, 1988 after a chest problem at the Tour of Switzerland:
The sediment is too high at 30. This is a sign of infection. The serum iron value is normal. The ferritin value of athletes should be above 100. A declining value of ferritin is one of the first signs of anemia. This is also caused by infectious diseases. B12 value is too high. The testosterone value is a bit low.
Limit the use of B12 for awhile.
Use extra iron, for example 1 capsule of eryfer 3 or 4 times a week.
When you have complaints of being overtired or not recovering well, have a blood control again in 14 days. Possibly take a testosterone supplement."
* * * * *
A letter from Peter Janssen to Johannes Draaijer after his fifth test with the doctor on August 5, 1988:
"Your condition is good at 81.17 but isn't optimal, because in May your test was higher. Your percentage of fat is 9.6%. It's interesting because your fat percentage is the same as when you were two kilos heavier, so I don't want you to lose any more weight. No complaints. The results are good.
'I would love to ride some classics this year but getting a place is difficult because there are so many good riders'
The lab results are showing a normal haemoglobin rate and a normal number of red blood cells, eritrocites, 5.22 is normal. There is no sign of an iron shortage. The ferritin is also good, even though with top athletes this can be above 100, so a little addition of iron would be good for you, maybe three tablets a week.
The hormones are good, the resting cortisol and cortisol rates after exertion are okay. The testosterone is good, even though when you are in the resting stand its 10.9 on the low side. No signs of infection. Liver function is normal. Urea and CPK, 7.8 and 134, is a little bit high. This is showing a low testosterone level and could be a sign that you are getting tired.
It would be good for you maybe to take for a short period, some extra low doses of testosterone, but considering the discussion at the moment, I would wait for that and just let me know if you are not reaching the results you want in the races."
Johannes Draaijer's first race as a professional was a 14th place finish in the prologue of the Etoile de Besseges on February 11, 1988. A month later he finished third in a stage of the Setmana Catalana, two places ahead of Seán Kelly, the world number one. It was a promising start to what proved a very promising season but promising wasn't enough at a team like PDM.
In February of '89, on the eve of his second season, he announced his ambition to the Dutch regional paper, BN de Stem. "I didn't get a chance to ride the big races last season but I've changed my preparation and doubled the amount of kilometres in training for this year. My first year was an apprenticeship at PDM, now something is going to be expected of me.
"I would love to ride some classics this year but getting a place is difficult because there are so many good riders, and the basic team is already known, so there are just two or three places open. But I'm ready to fight for them."
On March 7, on the opening stage of the Tour of Murcia in Spain, he beat the Spaniard Carlos Hernandez in a sprint to take his first win as a professional.
The next day, his 27th birthday, he wore his first leader's jersey and held it for four days. Andy Bishop helped defend his lead.
"It was his first pro win and he was ecstatic," Bishop says. "And he definitely earned the victory, it wasn't like some gift."
The performance earned him a place on the team for the classics and a month later he had finished his first Tour of Flanders (41st) and first Paris-Roubaix (45th). The Tour de France mattered most at PDM. They had finished second in '87 (Delgado), second in '88 (Rooks) and had spent big during the winter on Kelly and Alcala.
In June, Draaijer travelled to the Tour of Switzerland with a chance of making the team. There was one place up for grabs - it would be him or his compatriot, Hans Daams - but when Draaijer abandoned with a gastric 'flu the selection was made: Daams was going to the Tour. And then, a few days later, something extraordinary happened . . .
A report in BN de Stem on Monday June, 26, 1989:
Hans Daams was released from St Joseph Ziekenhuis Hospital in Eindhoven last Saturday. The 26-year-old cyclist was admitted on Friday when he was training and felt unwell. The team manager, Jan Gisbers, has decided to take him out of the Tour: "Earlier this season, Hans Daams had heart problems. He went to the hospital repeatedly but they didn't say there was any reason for him to stop riding his bike."
Daams has had a successful season. He won the Tour of the Americas and a stage of the Tour of Sweden. He will go back to hospital next week for more tests on his heart and Gisbers expects him to resume training next week.
Two days later, Draaijer travelled to Luxembourg for his first Tour de France. Annalisa was watching when he rolled down the starting ramp. She was proud. He was nervous. "It's going to be really hard. This is my first introduction to high mountains so I'm kind of scared," he told de Stem.
"The most important thing for me will be to stay healthy. My place at the end is completely irrelevant - my job is to protect Rooks and stay by his side on the flat stages. But it would be cool to get away in a nice breakaway."
A report in de Stem on July 4, 1989 after the third stage to Spa:
The PDM team have failed in a request to the jury of the Tour to allow a third sealed bottle of urine to be collected when their riders are controlled. The jury did not accept the reasoning and did not want to set a precedent. Jan Gisber's team is not happy with the decision.
Harrie Jansen (media officer) said: "We need that third bottle of urine in case one of our riders is found positive, then we could allow our own doctors to do a counter expertise in a different laboratory than the one in Paris. We don't think it's right that the counter expertise is done in the same lab."
A report in de Stem on Tuesday, July 18 1989, the day after the rest day: The soigneur, Bertus Fok, is wary about the size of the medical staff at PDM. The medical team that already has a doctor, Peter Janssen, has had more doctors added for the Tour de France. A South Korean acupuncturist living in the United States has been added to the roster and on Sunday night a heptonomist joined the team to help treat injuries to Rooks and Theunisse.
"It's like you almost have to stand in line to get to the riders," Fok explained on the rest day. "I know I shouldn't stand in the way of innovation but I don't think this makes any sense. The acupuncturist came to help the boys got to sleep but it's obviously not working because they are still coming to get sleeping pills from me."
The performance of the PDM team in the final stage, a time trial from Versailles to Paris won by Greg LeMond:
19th: Raul Alcala @ 1'41"
20th: Johannes Draaijer @ 1'44"
32nd: Jorg Muller @ 2'05"
38th: Steven Rooks @2'18"
47th: Sean Kelly @ 2'31"
60th: Gert-Jan Theunisse @ 2'44"
66th: Martin Earley @ 2'50"
70th" Marc van Orsouw @ 2'55"
The performance of the PDM team overall after the final stage:
4th: Gert-Jan Theunisse @ 7'30"
7th: Steven Rooks @ 11'10"
8th: Raul Alcala @ 14'21"
9th: Sean Kelly @ 18'25"
29th: Jorg Muller @ 55' 00"
44th: Martin Earley @ 1h 26' 45"
87th: Marc van Orsouw @ 1h 55' 48"
130th: Johannes Draaijer @ 2h 35' 32"
A conversation with a former PDM rider who does not want to be identified:
"I think the Tour was more than Johannes was ready for at that time. Inside, they told me they kept him in the race. What they gave him I don't know, I wasn't there, and I've never told that to anybody, but inside they told me they kept him in the race."
Sometimes the numbers are misleading. Take PDM's - fourth, seventh, eighth and ninth doesn't sound like a great Tour for the team but add four stage wins (Alcala, Earley, Rooks, Theunisse), the Points jersey (Kelly), the Sprints jersey (Kelly), the Mountains jersey (Theunisse), the Combination jersey (Rooks) and the Yellow Caps for Best team and you've the eye-catching headline of the race: "THE GREEDY BASTARDS!"
The team had won double the prize money of any of their rivals and the champagne was flowing freely when they celebrated in Paris. For Johannes, a Tour that almost eluded him had just delivered the greatest thrill of his sporting life.
The team had won double the prize money of any of their rivals and the
champagne was flowing freely
In the Pyrenees, on the tenth stage to the summit finish at Superbagneres, he had come within two minutes of being eliminated from the race. In Paris, on the morning of the final stage, he had delivered the best time trial of his life to ensure the team beat Reynolds (by 1m19secs) to the team prize.
Annalisa can still see the smile on his face. "I watched the time trial from a VIP stand on the Champs-Elysées," she says. "He was leading for a long time and the team were congratulating me for his ride because they needed it for the team prize. He was so happy. We couldn't believe it."
The next day they drove home to the Netherlands and he was feted in his adopted town of Hoeven. His future with the team was secure. He would be sitting down with them soon to discuss a new contract. He arrived home, unloaded his bike and prepared for a month sugared with exhibition rides.
Two weeks later, Bert Oosterbosch died.
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