Joy once more for Boardman
History-making Tour de France start overshadowed by Festina drug scandal
Posted: Saturday July 11, 1998 05:18 PM
DUBLIN, Ireland (CNN/SI) -- Time trial specialist Chris Boardman of Britain won Saturday's 1998 Tour de France prologue which took place in the streets of Dublin, in a time of six minutes, 12.36 seconds. This was Boardman's third Tour de France prologue victory in five years.
Chris Boardman of Great Britain celebrated his back-to-back victories in the Tour de France prologue time trial Saturday which took place in the streets of Dublin.
Boardman won in a time of six minutes 12 seconds, beating Abraham Olano of Spain by more than four seconds and world time trial champion Laurent Jalabert of France by five seconds.
Jan Ullrich of Germany the defending tour champion was sixth, also five seconds behind Boardman.
The Britain averaged a speed of 54.19 kilometers per hour over the 5.6 kilometer (3.5-mile) course.
In 1997 Boardman climbed the podium in Rouen after racing to victory in the 7.3-kilometer (4.5-mile) prologue.
However, the first ever start on Irish soil to this classic race was overshadowed by allegations and an arrest over a drug scandal which appears to involve the French Festina team.
" I really didn't expect to win today," he said. "I didn't feel very good this morning, but it came right on the day. ... The crowd really helped. The noise was incredible."
The gentle rainfall so common to the Emerald Isle affected the first half of the race, deterring some riders from aggressively taking the two sharpest corners early on in the speed circuit.
But the course had completely dried out when Boardman -- who also won the prologues of 1994 and 1997 -- rolled down the starting ramp. He never hesitated from the start and sailed down the city's broad O'Connell Street to the finish line beyond the city's landmark General Post Office.
Festina put in the strongest team performance, with three riders in the top 10, but found itself on the defensive over the arrest of one of its support staff in France.
French media reported that Willy Voet, a Belgian masseur, was arrested Thursday on the French-Belgian border in possession of more than 400 vials of steroids and the performance-enhancing drug EPO, which is considered the cycling world's favored drug. It boosts the level of red-blood cells, enabling cyclists to absorb oxygen more effectively.
One of Festina's unexpectedly strong performances came from unheralded Christophe Moreau, who led for much of the competition and finished fifth with a time of 6:17.32. He was competing while petitioning his positive test for steroid use at another race in June.
The Tour's director, Jean-Marie Leblanc, resisted calls for Festina to be restricted from competing until the facts of the case could be established.
"This man may have been acting on his own without the knowledge of the team, so there is no question of penalizing them," Leblanc said.
Festina's director, Bruno Roussel, said he knew nothing about the incident but would find out what happened when the Tour returns to France on Monday night. He said if police summoned him he would answer their questions "in all honesty" because he had "nothing to hide."
More than 30,000 hard-core fans and curiosity-seekers, virtually none of them aware of the Festina scandal, lined the route to see the first Tour de France ever to touch down on Irish soil.
Fans of certain countries or particular riders staked their spot along the barriers of O'Connell Street from early morning. Many hung flags from the railings or painted their faces to register their sympathies.
Shona McCormick and Laura Grehan, both 19 and from north Dublin, displayed their hand-made Irish flag bearing a "Good luck" message in Danish for the unlikely object of their affection, 1996 Tour winner Bjarne Riis: "HEID OB LYKKE, BJARNE."
Both said they fell in love with the 34-year-old Riis, unusually tall and balding for professional cyclists, while watching the 1996 Tour on cable television. "We really got obsessed with him once we knew he was coming here," McCormick said.
"Bjarne is so powerful all round," said Grehan. "But they're all wonderful. You have to be exceptionally fit to do what they do, more so than just about any other sport."
At the starting gate on the other bank of the River Liffey, several hundred Tour guests braved blaring Europop to sample some of Ireland's finest cuisine -- rare venison, poached salmon, wheaten bread, country cheeses and plump blackberries -- in the cobble-stoned courtyard of Trinity College.
Copious volumes of stout, ales and lagers ensured an especially convivial atmosphere as the cyclists rolled off the starting ramp, in one-minute intervals, outside Ireland's oldest university.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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