Descent: My Epic Fall from Cycling Superstardom to Doping Dead End

Descent: My Epic Fall from Cycling Superstardom to Doping Dead End


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The Award-Winning, International Best-Seller

“I have success, money, women. I’ve been lionized by the public and the press. The world is at my feet. I’ve spread my wings and here I am, soaring above everything and everyone. But in reality, the descent has already begun.”

At age 20, Thomas Dekker was already earning €100,000 a year—as an amateur bike racer. The next year, he turned pro and his salary quadrupled then rose again to €900,000 as he established his position as a super-domestique among Europe’s wealthiest superteams. The sport marveled at Dekker’s rise as the young racer set his ambitions on capturing cycling’s biggest prizes for himself. Before long, though, Dekker found himself corrupted by money, dazzled by fame, and cracking under the relentless pressure to perform at a superhuman level.

In his tell-all book DESCENT: My Epic Fall from Cycling Superstardom to Doping Dead End, Dekker reveals a sordid way of life full of blood bags, drugs, prostitutes, and money. DESCENT tells the story of a yearslong bender that exposes the brutal truth of his life as a professional cyclist. And Dekker is not alone; he names those who fell with him and those who aided in his downfall. In DESCENT, we take an unflinching look at the European peloton as it roars through its modern boom years—the height of the EPO era—and what we see is shocking. You won’t be able to turn away from this page-turning read about one man’s rise, fall, and redemption and what his story reveals about professional sports.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781937715809
Publisher: VeloPress
Publication date: 12/05/2017
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 792,854
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Thomas Dekker is a Dutch former professional cyclist whose talent on the bike quickly took him to the top of the sport. He raced for The Netherlands in the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens, won two Dutch National Time Trial Championships, and captured victories in the 2006 Tirreno-Adriatico and the 2007 Tour of Romandie. He rode for the Dutch Rabobank superteam and then Silence-Lotto before a retroactively tested sample returned positive for EPO. In 2009, Dekker was suspended for two years for the drug violation, and it was later confirmed during Operacion Puerto that Dekker was among the clients of Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes. After his suspension, Dekker joined the American Garmin Development Team and rode for Garmin-Barracuda from 2012-2014. Dekker claims to have ridden clean for Jonathan Vaughters and he became a popular rider in the American peloton. He retired after an attempt on the World Hour Record in 2015.

Thijs Zonneveld is a Dutch sports journalist and former professional cyclist. He covers the sport of cycling for Holland’s biggest newspaper and serves as a commentator for Dutch public television. His work appears regularly in,, and Wieler Magazine. Zonneveld received the award for the best Dutch sports journalist in 2016 for Descent.

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Excerpt from the unedited manuscript.

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Descent: My Epic Fall from Cycling Superstardom to Doping Dead End

Thomas Dekker with Thijs Zonneveld


6" x 9", 224 pp., $18.95, 9781937715809

Available in the USA this December, 2017 from VeloPress through Ingram Publisher Services

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Chapter 1: IN THE HOTEL

It’s a thousand shades of dark. The curtains are drawn, the door is locked. The only light is the dim glow of the bedside lamp. Shadows creep across the carpet and up the wall. The picture hanging there is the kind you find in countless hotel rooms—an anonymous print of some flower or other.

I’m lying on the bed in my jogging pants and T-shirt. I haven’t even bothered to take off my shoes. A thick needle is sticking out of my arm, attached to a drip. My blood runs dark red through the plastic tube. Slowly it fills the bag that’s lying on a set of digital scales on the floor.

In the corner of the room, far from the light, a man is sitting in a chair. His foot bobs up and down as he jots something in his diary. Every few minutes he glances at the scales. I met him for the first time half an hour ago in the hotel lobby. He introduced himself as Doctor Fuentes. Beige trousers, checked shirt, and a face that is instantly forgotten. He smells of cigarette smoke. We have barely spoken a word to each other. His English is basic and my Spanish non-existent. I don’t think he even knows who I am. Not that it matters. I haven’t come here to talk.

I stare at the blood in the bag. It’s as if it isn’t mine. As if it isn’t even real. I thought it would be different, the first time, that I would be excited, nervous—like a kid stealing candy from the corner shop. But there is no thrill, no jangling nerves. This is a simple transaction. Doping is business, only one you need to hide from as many people as possible.

Fifteen minutes go by and Doctor Fuentes gets out of his chair. He removes the needle from my arm and wipes away the blood with a wad of cotton. He holds out a magic marker and says in a thick Spanish accent, “I give you number. Twenty-four. Two four. You must write here.” He points to the bag of blood. I sit up, take the marker and write the number on the bag. He nods and says, “We are done.”

I pull my tracksuit top over my T-shirt and shake his hand. He opens the door and mumbles something indecipherable. I step into the hallway; the light is so bright it hurts my eyes.

The door clicks shut behind me.

There’s no way back from here.

Chapter 7: First Shot

I step into the room, suitcase trailing behind me like an oversized lap dog. There are two beds. One is empty, on the other sits Steven de Jongh, my teammate and roommate for the Rheinland-Pfalz Rundfahrt—my first stage race among the pros. I say hello. He nods at me and flicks channels on the TV. Pay-per-view. I hear groaning and cop an eyeful of pounding flesh. Steven grabs two towels and tosses one my way. “First things first. Time for a wank.”

I’m speechless. There I stand, case in hand, coat still on. I’m a trainee. This is my introduction to the pro peloton, my first full week rubbing shoulders with the major names of cycling. I hardly know Steven: I’ve only really seen him on TV. I’ve been assigned him as a roommate because he’s an experienced rider from the same part of the country as me—a common bond, or so they say. This is the man who’s going to tell me what it takes to be a pro. I’ve been paddling around in the kiddies’ pool for years; a traineeship with the pro peloton means diving in at the deep end. And riders like Steven are here to keep me afloat. He’s a man I look up to. This was not what I imagined when they told me we’d be sharing a room. I thought he’d offer me a friendly hand, not toss me a towel.

I let go of my case, pull down my pants and sit on the bed, doing my best to focus on the on-screen bump and grind. If this is a test, I’m not about to fail it. I want to be part of the gang.

If this is what it takes, then this is what it takes.

A few stages into the race, I receive my first injection from the team doctor one evening. His name is Geert Leinders, a Belgian who’s been working for Rabobank for years. He is a smart, reserved man who calmly explains what he is injecting into my body. It’s Actovegin, an extract obtained from calf blood. It’s not on the doping list but contains amino acids that aid recovery. Leinders asks if I understand. “Of course,” I say. To be honest, it’s a bit of a kick, a medical man sticking a needle in my arm like that. It all feels very professional.

Strangely enough, the racing itself doesn’t differ much from life with the Under-23s. True, there are more good riders, but I don’t get ridden into the ground. If anything, it’s the opposite. During the second stage, six of us break away on a climb. My teammate Erik Dekker is up there with me and tells me I should focus on picking up points on the mountain stages: “You could be in with a chance of taking the mountain jersey.” I’m not impressed. What do I want with the mountain jersey in the Rheinland-Pfalz Rundfahrt? I’m out to win the stage. And so I don’t sprint for the mountain points. Instead I bide my time and launch an attack around ten kilometers from the finish. No one responds—or no one can respond, who’s to say? It’s only with the finish line approaching that I look around: the street behind me is empty. I do the decent thing and thrust my hands in the air, but there’s no rush of euphoria. I’m not even surprised. I’ve become so used to winning that this seems normal. There are victory celebrations at dinner that evening. We don’t overdo it, a few bottles of wine, that’s all. With hindsight I realize how special it was: a young guy like me, a trainee on his first stage race snatching a victory, but then and there it doesn’t sink in. When the others tell me what a big deal it is, all I can do is shrug.

After the final stage of Rheinland-Pfalz, in which I finish second, I’m off with the pros to the Coppa Sabatini—an Italian road race that serves as a build-up to the World Championships. In the days leading up to the race, I find myself sharing a room with Michael Rasmussen. He comes across as a bit of an oddball. He says next to nothing and would be happier spending every hour of the day alone. He eats next to nothing. I can see his bones through his shirt. A few days before the race we head out for a loop over the Monte Serra. The weather is scorching but Rasmussen rides with leg warmers and two jackets. He has to “work up a good sweat,” he says. At the time I have no idea what he’s talking about.

The Coppa Sabatini is a race packed with top riders—Jan Ullrich, Francesco Casagrande, Franco Pellizotti, Stefano Garzelli, Michael Boogerd—all of them gearing up for the World Championships one week later in Verona. Ullrich wins, I come in sixth. I’d like nothing better than another shot at beating him during the World Championships but in my determination to become a world champion, I’ve opted to compete in the Under-23s. So much for determination. I beat Vincenzo Nibali in the time trial but still wind up second to Janez Brajkovič. It’s the biggest disappointment of my career, not least because it hadn’t even occurred to me that I might not win. Up on the podium I have to summon every last ounce of self-control to stop myself hurling my silver medal to the ground. And when I get back to the hotel, I sit on the edge of my bed and sob for minutes on end. A few days later, in the road race, it’s second fucking place again: I make my final move a fraction too late and it’s not enough to catch breakaway rider Kanstantsin Sivtsov.

That evening I go out on the town with my teammates and my sister, who has made the trip to Italy to cheer me on. Still choked with frustration at being double runner-up, I’m hell-bent on drowning my sorrows. We head for a party at a Verona nightclub where a lot of the riders are drinking and dancing without a care in the world; for many it’s the end of the season. Mario Cipollini comes up to me. Not only does he know who I am but he also tells me I’m going to be a star and launches into a story about how good he used to be in his early days. It makes me feel like I belong, like I’m really making a name for myself in the world of cycling. It tickles my ego. I can feel how important status is becoming to me; I long to be recognized, to be acknowledged. I want the major players to take me seriously. It’s the year of my first pro victories. The year the first needle went into my arm. In that nightclub it feels like I have genuinely stepped into another world. My days among the small fry are over. I have ridden my last World Championship in the Under-23s. Another peloton awaits, one with a different set of standards.

Late in the evening, I run into Elisa Basso. She’s the sister of Ivan Basso, but the two are poles apart: Ivan is a doe-eyed, soft-spoken guy, while Elisa is out there and extroverted. She’s beautiful, older than me, part of the official glamour at the World Championships. Without a word, she takes me by the hand and steers me through the crowd and out into the night.

Table of Contents

1. In the Hotel

2. Dead Ordinary

3. Love at First Sight

4. First Call

5. Junior Camp

6. The Commitment

7. First Shot

8. Jacques the Manager

9. Initiation

10. A Boost for the Worlds

11. The Coach

12. The Territory

13. Your Blood Is Your Blood

14. No Worries

15. One Is Not Enough

16. Stepping Up

17. A Hippie in Love

18. The 2007 Tour de France

19. It’s You, Not Me

20. Trickier Than You’d Think

21. Doing Without

22. Positively Positive

23. Give Them Nothing

24. Falling

25. Wiped Out

26. Lifeline

27. Cards on the Table

28. Ashes and Embers

29. Adrift

30. The Stupidest Idea Ever

31. The Attempt

32. Big Talk, Small Talk, No Talk

33. A Turn of the Tables

34. The Story of My Descent


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