Scandal-rocked Tour ends with Pantani winner
Posted: Tuesday September 22, 1998 05:13 PM
PARIS, France (CNN/SI) -- It is Marco Pantani's misfortune that instead of being the focus of the 1998 Tour de France, his victory will be tarnished by the memory of a tour overshadowed by allegations and charges of the use of drugs.
During the Tour seven people were placed under investigation - one step short of being charged - on drug-related charges. Among them were three officials of he Festina team, two from TVM, a doctor from ONCE and one rider, Italy's Rodolfo Massi of the Casino team.
Six teams dropped out in protest and one team, Festina, was expelled. The pack was reduced to fewer than 100 riders from the original 189.
Jean-Marie Leblanc, the director of the Tour, knows there is work to do before the next year and not only in tracing the Tour for the 1999 edition.
"We are going to work in the weeks and months to come to reform this problem of doping, to wipe it out so it doesn't exist any more," Leblanc said.
Many riders complained that they felt they were being treated as criminals. Once, they delayed the start of a stage by two hours. Another time they held hands in protest crossing the finish line, prompting organizers to wipe out the entire stage.
Pantani did his best to divert attention from it, riding magnificently in the mountains. He was th first to win both the Tour of Italy and the Tor de France in one year since cycling great Miguel Indurain did it five years ago.
"To win the Giro and the Tour de France is something my country has been waiting for a long time," Pantani said. "This day will remain one of the most important days in my life."
Italian President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro sent Pantani a message offering "the thanks of the Italian people for having given Italy this exceptional success."
Pantani, who rides for the Mercatone Uno team, is the first Italian to win the Tour since Felice Gimondi in 1965.
Jan Ullrich of Germany, the defending champion, came in second by 3 minutes and 21 seconds, and American Bobby Julich came in third, at 4:08.
Julich, riding with the French Cofidis team, is the second American to finish in the top three, following three-time winner Greg LeMond.
"This year I had little chance to win," said Julich, riding in his second Tour. "Pantani was on another planet. When he attacks the mountains, no one can match him."
Tom Steels of Belgium took the 21st and final stage on the Champs Elysees in Paris. It was Steels' fourth stage win of this Tour. He won the first stage in Dublin three weeks ago.
Pantani rode in triumph along the Champs Elysees in the bright yellow jersey of the winner.
The Italian came in third in 1994 and 1997 and lost by more than 14 minutes to Ullrich last year. Pantani broke his leg at the end of 1995 and did not race in 1996.Pantani took the lead last Monday after Ullrich lost nine minutes in one day.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.