Drug scandal dogs Tour de France's wheels
Posted: Sunday July 26, 1998 04:52 PM
LE CAP D'AGDE, France (CNN/SI) -- This year's Tour de France was dogged by the scandal of drugs. With the scandal breaking before the tour even began, drugs became an even bigger story than the cyclists or the tour itself. With every turn of the pedals just as it appeared the cycling would once more take precedence as the main story, yet another scandal would break.
Cycling, one of the most popular sports in continental Europe, faces a struggle to recover from the doping scandals which have rocked this year's Tour de France.
Two teams have been investigated over doping allegations, the director of Festina admitted his team had organized doping on a large scale and several riders confessed to taking erythropoietin (EPO), police said.
Police and judges made a sudden and unexpected intrusion into the closed world of the tour, the 85th in history.
The investigations caused tension in the peloton with the riders going on strike and threatening to abandon a race which had only ever been stopped by two world wars.
Criticism from the riders was directed at the media, who the riders felt pointed a finger at them all, but also at the International Cycling Union (UI), seen by some as distant and inefficient.
The protest came a day after Festina riders were detained and spent the night at the Lyon police headquarters. The riders' protest seemed to have been spurred by the realization that they could end up in jail for doping abuses after decades when suspensions, very often not disclosed by discreet national federations, were their only fear.
"The blood transfusion scandal has killed many people but it's the riders who are in jail," said Casino team director Vincent Lavenu, referring to a scandal in which former French ministers were charged but looked unlikely to be sentenced.
"We're not criminals," added Lavenu, summing up the general feeling within the bunch.
But for many, the current scandal could signal a new start.
"In the past, only riders were suspended. Now, dealers and providers will pay," said five times Tour winner Bernard Hinault, now a consultant with the organizers.
"There will be before and after the Festina scandal," he added.
The new approach to the anti-doping fight started last year when French sports minister Marie-George Buffet filed a complaint, prompting police to look into dope dealing networks in sport.
The move led to two team cars being stopped by customs with huge quantities of banned substances. Police also raided the Grenoble six-day race last year, finding illegal products.
The UCI stepped up its anti-doping rules, setting up compulsory blood tests ahead of races. Next season it will institute health controls, allowing it to stop riders from racing if they are judged unfit.
Under pressure from the riders, the UCI agreed to hold a crisis meeting at the end of the season to try to find solutions to cycling's problems.
Riders said they were forced to take part in too many races in order to score points for the crucial UCI team rankings.
Only the best teams in the rankings are allowed to take part in the major, lucrative events such as the Tour.
UCI number two Daniel Baal, who met team leaders after the strike, said the rankings would be revised and the calendar modified.
Influential team director Roger Legeay, who looked after former Tour winner Greg LeMond, said cycling should seize the chance to reform itself.
"This sport generates money. I think some of it, five or 10 percent, should be devoted to research to make dope tests more efficient," he said.
"This has caused a shockwave. We should meet and sit and discuss this with riders, doctors, team directors, sports authorities and the International Olympic Committee once the dust settles."
Reuters contributed to this report.
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