Voet was up the next morning at 5:30. He was used to long days. During a race four to five hours of sleep a night is the norm, so to keep themselves awake many of the masseurs, team managers and mechanics who serve as the cyclists' support crew routinely take uppers of one kind or another. "It's easy to justify," Voet says. "It's better to pop a little pill than to run into a tree on the side of the road."
The drive from Brussels to Calais, France, where he was to catch a ferry to Dover, England, was no more than three hours, but to give himself a little boost, Voet had a "Belgian cocktail," as it's known in cycling circles, a concoction of amphetamines, caffeine, cocaine and heroin that is injected into the arm. This, too, is part of the sport's culture, according to Voet. He was carrying two vials of the cocktail—one for himself, one for a friend—each containing 10 to 20 milliliters, enough for 20 to 40 doses. He was pretty sure that was enough to get him through the rest of the season. The feeling of elation the cocktail provided him was nearly instantaneous. Voet headed down the Belgian highway ready to take on the world.
For some reason he still can't explain, Voet began to get nervous as he neared the French border, so he turned off the motorway at the last exit in Belgium and decided to cross on a back road called Route du Bronkeart. A mile into France he was forced to slow down by the sight of a customs official standing in the middle of the road. Voet briefly thought of turning around but decided there was nothing to worry about. In all his years of driving the garishly identified Festina team car, he'd never been bothered by customs. No doubt the official would ask him about Virenque, who'd finished second in the Tour in 1997, had four times won the King of the Mountains award (given to the Tour rider with the most points in the hill stages), and was something of a French national icon. Voet pulled over. It was then that he noticed another car hidden in the bushes, from which four uniformed officials emerged. My god, he thought, I'm dead.
Voet was asked if he had anything to declare. "Not really, just some vitamins for the cyclists," he replied. Voet wasn't worried about the coolers containing Festina's drugs, which he had placed behind the driver's seat. He'd transported those so many times he didn't even think of them as illegal. In his mind they really were like vitamins. He certainly didn't think he could go to jail for carrying them. Voet was worried about the two Belgian cocktails in his pocket—"real illegal drugs," he says.
It didn't take long for the officials to open the two coolers with the unidentified vials of EPO, growth hormones and testosterone. Asked about their contents, Voet said he didn't know what they were beyond recovery aids for the cyclists. The customs officers said they were going to send the vials to the lab to be tested. When Voet told the officers he had to catch a boat in Calais to make the start of the race, one of them replied, "You can forget about your boat."
Voet had been able to drop one of his Belgian cocktails into the grass without detection, but when he was strip-searched at the customs office in Neuville-en-Ferrain, the other was found in his underwear, and he was handcuffed. When the results of the lab tests on the vials in the coolers came back, Voet at first pretended he had no idea what EPO was. Later, trying to protect his cyclists, he said the drugs were for his personal use. "You take me for a jerk?" the customs official said. Voet was moved to the jail in the central customs office in Lille.
Over the next few days, living in a cell that smelled of vomit and urine, Voet—alone, confused, crying—eventually broke down and on July 14 he told officials the truth. But not, he says, until he'd overheard Festina cyclists lying in interviews broadcast on a TV near his cell. The riders said that they were clean and that the drugs found in the team car must have been for Voet's own use. Voet was especially infuriated by Virenque, whom he had treated as a son and who, Voet believed, had enough friends in high places to make a few phone calls and get him released from jail.
"Virenque told an interviewer, 'Oh, I never took any dope, I'm clean,' " Voet says. "He even said, 'He's been my personal trainer for eight years, but I'm not responsible for what he's doing behind my back.' I was in prison, helpless, and no one was supporting me. I thought of my family, my children. What if my 13-year-old son, Mathieu, grew up to be a cyclist, and his trainer asked him to take drugs? Would I let him? No way. That's when I decided to tell the truth."
The drugs, he told French magistrates, were for the nine Festina cyclists competing in the Tour de France, which had started three days earlier. On July 15, after Voet told the magistrates that Rijckaert oversaw the dosages, taking blood samples from the riders twice a day to test for hematocrit values, the Festina team doctor was arrested on charges of importing and illegal transport of poisonous substances. Voet told the magistrates that the purchase of the drugs was financed by Bruno Roussel, Festina's director, who also was arrested that day and charged with administering, aiding and abetting the using of doping substances and procedures during a sports competition. At the end of the season, the cost of the drugs was to be repaid out of the cyclists' year-end bonuses. The system had been in place for several years. The amount deducted from each cyclist's bonus check depended on which drugs he used and in what quantities.
Voet was in charge of keeping track, and he kept meticulously coded notebooks that recorded everyone's intake. After Voet was jailed, he said, Roussel contacted Sylvie and told her to destroy the notebooks. Instead, she turned them over to the authorities. Those notebooks were Voet's proof that the Festina doping program was systematic and not the work of a renegade masseur. Rijckaert spent 95 days in jail; he is still awaiting trial. Roussel spent 10 days in jail and is also awaiting trial. Last month Roussel told the French newspaper Le Monde, "I set up the system with Dr. Eric Rijckaert out of a desire to protect the riders. I was reassured by the idea of seeing a doctor supervising the treatment." (SI could not reach Rijckaert for comment.)