Keeping the focus
Race director says tour is unaffected by Festina drug arrest
Posted: Saturday July 11, 1998 12:46 PM
DUBLIN, Ireland (CNN/SI) -- Jean-Marie Leblanc the Tour de France race director said Saturday that the tour which is regarded as the ultimate goal in cycling circles was not influenced by the arrest of Belgium's Willy Voet for possession of anabolic steroids a Festina team medical staff member.
"If it concerns a doping affair, it doesn't affect us," Leblanc said before the Tour prologue in Dublin.
"It wasn't a rider, it wasn't during the race and the arrest was made hundreds of kilometers from the race," LeBlanc told a news conference.
Voet who personally takes care of Festina's team leader Richard Virenque, was arrested Thursday by French customs officers near the Belgian border and was still in custody in Lille on Saturday.
Police sources said he was carrying a few hundred grams of steroids and ampoules of EPO, a hormone which enhances the oxygen content in the blood.
Voet said the drugs were for his personal use.
The majority of the Festina officials are in Ireland for the start of the 3,850-kilometer tour and police said some might be questioned when they return to France early next week.
Tour favorites Virenque, second last year behind German Jan Ullrich of Telekom, and Switzerland's Alex Zuelle and Laurent Dufaux race for Festina.
"When the inquest is over, we'll know how to react," Leblanc said. "We have many times shown our seriousness and cooperation in the matter of doping."
"If the facts are correct, it's extremely grave because there is a large quantity [of drugs involved]," French sports minister Marie-George Buffet said.
Buffet has intensified the French government's fight against drugs in sport since last year, was in Dublin for Saturday's start of the tour.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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