Pawel Szczepaniak on the podium © Bart Hazen

Pawel Szczepaniak on the podium © Bart Hazen

by Christine Vardaros

Pawel Szczepaniak admits to having taken EPO leading up to the U23 World Championships from a still unnamed drug source, but claims that at the time he thought he was taking vitamins. According to an interview with Het Laatste Nieuws, after his form dipped post-European Championships, where he placed second, he was worried with World Championships just around the corner. So when a guy approached him telling him, “I will make you World Champion,” he was intrigued.

Szczepaniak tells Het Laatste Nieuws, “There was no talking about EPO or doping, the person in question was talking about vitamins. I found it a great idea and I convinced my brother. He didn’t know where I got the stuff, but we both had the same dream, to help our family financially. You know, my dad is a school bus driver,  he makes 250 euros a month. My mom works at a hair dresser salon. With four kids, it’s hard to make it. We wanted a better life for our family. Cycling was for our family the only way to escape the poverty.”

“A  little bit more than two weeks before World Championships, we started the so called vitamin cure,” confesses Pawel. “Two times a week we had to inject ourselves, but it didn’t look like it had a lot of effect. Even during the World Championships in Tabor, I didn’t have  a special feeling in my legs. I was just riding well, but I didn’t find that I was riding abnormally well. Two years ago I also won a bronze in the World Championships in Hoogerheide. But now in Tabor, I found a course that was made for me. Two weeks long I trained in Poland on a similar course with snow and ice. That I won the jersey was no surprise for me.”

March 10th they got the UCI letter in the mailbox. “I didn’t understand half of what was in that letter. Only three letters were not possible to misunderstand – E  P  O.  It hit me like a bomb. The feeling that I had then was incredible, I didn’t believe it. My dad started to cry.”

“Kacper reacted very heavily. I don’t want to call  it a real suicide attempt, but he was in complete shock. Our dad had to calm him down.  If he didn’t, Kacper could have had some accidents. Dad believes to this day that we didn’t take EPO. Me too, I still don’t believe it. But a B-sample test is the same result in 99.99 percent of the cases, and it costs us 1500 euros per person. That’s 3000 euros. My dad has to work 14 months for that, so we can’t do it.”

“My life is destroyed, it’s as simple as that. I stopped my school studies because I couldn’t combine it with top-level competition, so now my hands are empty. Where the hell can I find work? The same for Kacper.  You can’t believe how much guilt I feel – against my family, but especially against Kacper. He had a beautiful future with Telenet-Fidea . Now he’s a wreck. He almost doesn’t eat anymore , he fills his days with sleeping, sitting on the sofa and staring in front of him. I also admit it’s a disaster for the Baboco people [Pawel’s team]. Those people treated me as family. They did everything for me with heart and soul. I ruined their trust.”

The brothers are now in treatment with a psychologist. Once Pawel serves his suspension, he plans to come back, but he knows it will be tough having to compete with the Elites. But he has a mission to prove to the naysayers that he can indeed succeed in the sport without drugs. He adds that if his suspension is longer than two years, he doubts he will return to the sport.