Police to question Festina team
Posted: Wednesday July 22, 1998 02:14 PM
LYON, France (CNN/SI) -- A source close to the investigation into the drug scandal surrounding Festina said Wesdnesday that all 20 team cyclists will be questioned by Lille police in Lyon, the team's headquarters, on Thursday and Friday.
A dozen officers of Lille's criminal investigation branch of police in will travel to Lyon in order to question the cyclists, team staff and management at local police headquarters.
The Festina team was expelled from the Tour de France on Friday after its team director Bruno Roussel confessed to supplying his riders with banned doping substances.
The police officers will question last year's Tour runner-up, team leader Richard Virenque, world champion Laurent Brochard, Swiss Laurent Dufaux and Alex Zuelle and other riders as part of an investigation into a scandal which has seriously tainted the reputation of the sport.
Nine Festina riders participated in the Tour until they were expelled Friday evening. But all the professional riders on contract to the team are to be questioned.
Festina masseur Willy Voet was arrested at the French-Belgium border earlier this month on a charge of smuggling doping substances.
Lille-based investigating magistrate Patrick Keil is in charge of the probe but is not coming to the Lyon hearings, the source said.
Police have said they will also be looking closely into the accounts of the Festina watch-making company which is based in Andorra. As well as being a team owner, Festina is the tour's official timekeeper and one of its main sponsors.
The legal probe has sparked a widespread debate on doping in sport.
Two members of French parliament have called for the creation of an official investigating body on doping and the Association of Italian Professional Cyclists (ACCPI) on Tuesday called for blood, rather than urine tests, to become the sport's standard anti-doping control. One of the substances found in Voet's car, the erythropoietin (EPO) hormone, cannot be detected by urine tests but can be spotted through blood screening.
But there was sympathy from Spain for the Festina riders. In an interview with Spanish agency Europa Press, the president of the Spanish cycling federation, Manuel Perez Rubio described the move to expel them as "hurried."
"The justice system has intervened and when we know the results of the investigations that have started we can speak a little more precisely," he said.
"But in whatever case, I feel sorry for the cyclists, because they are [the] ones who have been sacrificed. They went for them."
Rubio questioned why cycling was always persecuted in relation to drugs "when there are other sports that have bigger problems."
Cycling, he said, was always portrayed as "the black beast of sport" in this regard.
But it is not only Festina under a cloud as doping substances were also found in a car belonging to Dutch team TVM in Reims last March. TVM says the substances were planted in the car by a third party.
In Grenoble, assistant prosecutor Francois Thierry said that an investigation had begun into possible doping use during the Six Cycling Days indoor professional meet in the town in November 1997.
"The first elements of the probe do not offer ground to put anybody under formal investigation," Thierry said.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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