Pervading the upper echelon
French PM saddened by drug scandal surrounding tour
Posted: Thursday July 16, 1998 04:29 PM
CHATEAUROUX, France (CNN/SI) -- The French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin said Thursday that although he was saddened by the drug scandal surrounding this years Tour de France, he was not surprised.
A medical member of the French team Festina, Willy Voet was taken into custody by border police last week after he was found in possession of over 400 vials of banned substances. Both Festina's team manager Bruno Roussel and team doctor Erik Ryckaert were detained in Cholet on Wednesday.
The International Cycling Union (UCI) announced Thursday it had suspended Roussel for failing to send them a report on the case within a specified time. The suspension was provisional pending the investigation.
"I have seen with some sadness, but not real surprise since there were reasons to be worried, news that ruthless people were trying to provide riders with doping products, prohibited of course, difficult to detect and dangerous for the health of athletes," Jospin said.
France, riding a wave of patriotic fervor after winning the soccer World Cup Sunday, has been shocked by the doping case.
"Unfortunately, it tarnished one of the most wonderful sports events, just behind the World Cup, an event we all love," World Cup chief organizer Michel Platini said.
Roussel has been replaced by deputy team director Miguel Moreno. The team riders have decided to continue racing.
"We're going on. We're here to win the tour," said team leader Richard Virenque of France, who finished second overall last year.
Tour de France chief Jean-Marie Leblanc repeated that it was out of the question to disqualify the Festina team from the race.
"As we said in Ireland, the tour organizers are convinced that the riders do not have to be banned and can go on with the race as they have vowed to do," he said.
Roussel, Rijckaert and a third unnamed team member arrived at the police headquarters Wednesday and are expected to be transferred to Lille, where the investigation is being led by investigating judge Patrick Keil.
Voet was charged last week with smuggling doping substances into France after some 400 bottles of products including steroids and the banned hormone EPO were found in his car at the border between Belgium and France.
The Festina team denied being involved in the case but Roussel had said he wanted to be heard by the police as quickly as possible to set the record straight.
"It is normal that Roussel should be heard, as he was Voet's employer. That's what we've been asking for throughout," Virenque said.
Roussel has been in charge of the Festina team since it was formed four years ago.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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