Burying the tour
Press laments Tour de France as scandal widens
Posted: Thursday September 24, 1998 04:00 PM
PARIS (CNN/SI) -- The media across Europe continued the publicity, mostly negative, as the Tour de France teetered precariously forward Thursday after an additional five teams withdrew from the event.
Thursday also saw addition raids by French police on team hotels in the continuing search for illegal substances.
"What Sadness!" screamed the French daily Le Parisien on its front page as news broke that the last two Spanish teams -- Vitalicio and Kelme -- had quit the tour, bringing to six the number of teams now out of the race. Just 15 are left.
In Germany, where the fortunes of Tour champion Jan Ullrich and his Deutsche Telekom team receive blanket news coverage, commentators said the race was being wrecked.
"Tour Kaputt," lamented the Bild tabloid front-page headline over a picture of tour director Jean-Marie LeBlanc talking to striking cyclists.
In Belgium, Wallonia's La Libre Belgique said the judicial inquiry proved that the famous race and its teams were not above the law. "The Tour is Dead," it said in a front-page editorial.
"The Tour thought its reputation, its legend, its history, its popularity would be enough to quell the storm. Facts have decided otherwise. Too bad for those who didn't understand this earlier," the paper said.
Wednesday was a dark day for the Tour, as the ONCE, Banesto and Riso Scotti teams abandoned the race and riders disrupted the 17th stage in protest against ongoing searches and police treatment of their colleagues.
Riders deliberately cycled in leisurely fashion, finishing more than two hours behind schedule. The Dutch TVM team, whose doctor and director are under investigation for allegedly providing doping products, crossed the finish line hand-in-hand.
The Big Flat Tyre," moaned France's Liberation. "[The riders] appear much more outraged by the police raids than by the doping, as if the real problem was the bothersome judicial probes rather than a practice -- widespread but concealed -- of taking banned substances."
But several newspapers were critical of the investigators' searches and questioning, saying the probes were too harsh and should have been held off until after the tour.
"It's an attack on the Tour," declared Italy's biggest-selling sports newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport in a banner headline. "Brutal blitz by the gendarmes, irrational protests by the riders, the race is crumbling."
Italian papers were also keenly aware of what the tour chaos meant for their hero and race leader Marco Pantani's finest hour.
"There is an innocent victim here and it is Marco Pantani," leading daily La Repubblica said in an editorial.
"Pantani deserved everyone's applause and instead he receives only spleen," it added.
Germany's Westfaelische Nachrichten said the treatment of the cyclists, some of whom were hauled out of their hotel showers in the middle of the night, was cruel and inhumane.
"One can at least expect a bit of sensitivity. It is understandable that the riders are defending themselves and even that teams are pulling out. What happened to liberty, equality and fraternity?" it said.
Officers probing the Festina team, kicked out of the tour two weeks ago on doping charges, turned up at the ONCE hotel in Chambery on Wednesday and questioned team doctor Nicola Terrado.
Casino team director Vincent Lavenu was held for questioning by police after his hotel was raided as well. Other police officers searched the hotel rooms of the Francaise des Jeux team but nobody was detained for questioning.
Reuters contributed to this report.