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Out of the race

Festina team expelled from tour in drug scandal

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Posted: Friday July 17, 1998 06:30 PM

  Prosecutor Joubert said that Festina cyclists would be questioned as witnesses in the case after the Tour de France ends (AP)

LILLE, France (CNN/SI) -- Merely hours after Festina's team director Bruno Roussel and Eric Ryckaert the team doctor were placed under formal investigation in a drugs scandal, Jean-Marie Leblance, the director of the Tour de France announced that the Festina team had been expelled on Friday.

Leblanc said the team was being excluded in part to "end the unhealthy climate" that has pervaded the competition since it got underway in Dublin, Ireland, July 11.

"It seems to me that the sports ethic, the morality of the Tour are the most important things .... We have taken the decision to exclude the Festina team starting on this day," Leblanc told a news conference in Brive-La-Gaillarde, the town in central France where the sixth stage ended Friday.

Leblanc said the decision was "difficult" but "indispensable" for the Tour and for the sport.

Earlier, in Lille, Roussel said in a statement read by his lawyer that there was a "concerted" practice of providing drugs to Festina cyclists that ran the chain of command within the team, from director to cyclists.

"The object was to optimize performances under strict medical control," said the statement read by Thibault de Montbrial, "in order to avoid cyclists personally and uncontrollably supplying themselves under conditions that could be bad for their health."

Roussel and Ryckaert have been in custody since Wednesday evening after police found a stash of performance-enhancing drugs in the team masseur's car. They were returned to jail.

The masseur was placed under investigation -- a step short of being charged -- earlier this week.

Officials said Roussel is under investigation for importing and circulating prohibited merchandise as well as administering, facilitating and inciting the use of doping substances and infraction of drug laws. Ryckaert is under investigation for importing and circulating prohibited merchandise.

Prosecutor Jean-Philippe Joubert said earlier that Festina cyclists would be questioned as witnesses in the case after the Tour de France ends. They now may be questioned earlier.

Michel Gros, who replaced Roussel, said Festina is a scapegoat in the cycling world where doping, he claimed, is common practice.

"Within the entire pack, it [doping] exists," Gros said in Varetz, where the team was spending the night.

But one Festina cyclist, Pascal Herve, of France, said he has "never used EPO or other things." He was referring to the difficult-to-detect substance EPO that helps pump oxygen into the bloodstream.

Festina's masseur, Belgian Willy Voet, was arrested by customs officials July 9 at the French-Belgian border, his Festina team car stocked with some 400 doses of EPO and other drugs.

As controversy grew, Jean-Paul Escande, former president of a national commission against doping, said the affair is unfairly targeting the Festina team.

Escande said the use of such drugs is widespread in sports.

"There is more and more of it," he said on France 2 television.

Ryckaert told the L'Equipe newspaper Thursday he was "broken" by the allegations, and staunchly denied any involvement in doping. "My wife knows me, and she knows that everything they are saying about me is a serious lie," he said.

Festina's main sponsor, the Spanish watch company Festina, has threatening to break the team contract if there is evidence of drug use among riders.


Related information
Sprint king Cipollini takes 6th stage; O'Grady retains lead
Roussel, Ryckaert taken to Lille for court appearance
Festina's team doctor Ryckaert talks to L'Equipe
L'Equipe: Festina team all shook up
French PM saddened by drug scandal surrounding tour
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1998 Tour de France
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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