Steels takes 12th stage after riders delay start for 2 hours
Posted: Friday July 24, 1998 08:30 PM
CAP d'GDE, France (AP) -- Riders showed their anger by starting Friday's stage of the Tour de France two hours late, complaining that the use of performance-enhancing drugs was wrecking the sport.
Belgium's Tom Steels won the 137-mile stage from Tarascon-sur-Ariege to Cap d'Gde in southern France for his second Tour victory. The pack caught Jacky Durand of France near the finish with Steels capturing the sprint.
Laurent Jalabert was part of a long breakaway during the day with his brother Nicolas and Bart Voskamp of the Netherlands. The lead was up to five minutes at one point before the pack caught them.
Laurent Jalabert, the world's No. 1-ranked cyclist, was instrumental in the early protest and acted as a spokesman.
"We are fed up with being treated like cattle. So we are going to behave like cattle," he told Radio Tour, the station that follows the race.
"The sport is no longer interesting to anyone. We won't cycle and that's the end of it."
But after conferring with race officials, the 148 cyclists did hit the road.
When the stage was over, Jan Ullrich still had the overall lead, keeping a 71-second margin over American Bobby Julich.
Armin Meier of Switzerland became the first cyclist to publicly admit taking the banned performance-enhancing substance EPO. He was a member of the Festina team that was thrown out of the race because of the scandal.
Meier said on France Info radio that during police questioning he had admitted to taking EPO.
"Yes, I said that I had taken EPO, how I took it and why I took it," he said, adding that "I'm just the victim of a system."
Meier refused to say if any of his teammates had also taken the banned substance, and he criticized the police treatment of riders during the interrogation.
"I feel a little like a criminal. Each rider had two police officers. They put me under pressure for four or five hours. They took everything. I undressed. They could see all of me. I went into a cell with a wooden bed.
"But I feel better inside because I have told the truth. Perhaps it is good for the sport." he added.
Meier and all his Festina teammates were released after questioning.
One of them, Richard Virenque, maintained throughout questioning that he had not taken illegal drugs, said his lawyer Gilbert Collard.
In the northern city of Lille, Festina team director Bruno Roussel, team doctor Eric Ryckaert and physiotherapist Willy Voet -- all under formal investigation in the affair -- gave their versions on the doping issue in a three-hour court session.
Tour organizers said that the Dutch TVM team, under suspicion for possible doping, would "be immediately expelled" from the competition if there was firm evidence against the team.
Two TVM officials were being questioned Friday.
The influential daily Le Monde called for an end to this year's race, contending it has become a meaningless contest that now impedes all sides from getting to the bottom of the issue.
"Tour de France discredited," proclaimed Le Monde's front page headline.
But Sports Minister Marie-George Buffet said the race must go on.
"The Tour is seriously ill," she said. "But there's no reason to kill it."
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