BERLIN (Reuters) - Former sprint cyclist Erik Zabel admitted on Sunday to years of doping, including EPO, cortisone and blood doping, days after he was named in a French Senate inquiry as a drugs offender.
Until Sunday, Zabel, who was among the finest sprinters in his sport, had previously admitted to only a brief experimental week with the blood booster EPO in 1996.
But in an interview of Monday's edition of Sueddeutsche Zeitung, the German, who topped the points classification of the Tour six times until his retirement in 2008, said he had used banned drugs and illegal methods from 1996 until 2003.
"It was doping for much longer, for many years. I never had a structured doping plan, never had any experts around me and I never saw myself as a super doper," Zabel told the newspaper.
"When you take everything together - EPO, cortisone (a steroid hormone) and even blood doping, then it's quite a lot," he said.
Zabel was named in the French report along with several other riders including the top two in the 1998 Tour de France - Italian Marco Pantani, who died of a drug overdose in 2004, and German Jan Ullrich.
Ullrich himself ended years of vehement denials in June, admitting he underwent blood doping procedures.
"As a young rider I did not really think about what big a step this was. But it is clear that I knew very well, this is not allowed and no one forced me to take EPO. It was my decision," Zabel, who son Rick is also a professional rider, said.
"I wanted to keep my life, my dream life as a professional. I loved that, this sport, the trips. This selfishness was just stronger."
Cycling's credibility has been pummeled by high-profile doping confessions with Lance Armstrong, the popular face of professional cycling who beat cancer to win the Tour seven times, having his titles stripped after a sophisticated doping program was uncovered in October by the United States Anti-Doping Agency.
He later admitted having taken performance-enhancing drugs.
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by John Mehaffey)