Two days after the arrests of Rijckaert and Roussel, the Festina team was thrown out of the Tour. Six of the nine Festina riders soon admitted taking drugs (none of them were charged with a crime), but team leader Virenque vehemently denied he had done so. The protestations of Virenque were particularly appalling to Voet. In a brief from a hearing before Judge Patrick Keil last May in Lille, Voet said that after the scandal broke he told Virenque, "If I had injected you with everything you had asked me to, you would be a dead man." (In March, Virenque was hit with four sets of drug charges, including ones similar to those leveled at Roussel and Rijckaert. In May, according to French media reports, after months of pleading his innocence, the 29-year-old Virenque, worn down by a 21-hour grilling by French police in a separate investigation, admitted he'd been lying. Virenque has denied the reports and has not been charged in the second probe, though he is still awaiting trial on the March charges. Meanwhile Tour de France director Jean-Marie Leblanc, intent on cleaning up his race's image, announced on June 16 that Virenque was "not welcome" at the '99 Tour because he "epitomizes, in his name, in his image, the doping phenomenon.")
The 1998 Tour drug scandal continued to escalate after Festina's departure. One team after another came under suspicion. In late July syringes with traces of EPO were found in a field in Brives, a town on the Tour route. On July 29 French police searched the hotel rooms of the Spanish team ONCE, confiscating a large supply of illegal drugs and drug paraphernalia but making no arrests. ONCE and a second Spanish team, Banesto, pulled out of the Tour. That same week the doctor and the director of the Dutch team TVM were brought in for questioning after the entire team failed a doping test, and TVM was subsequently banned from the 1999 race. Racers, complaining they were being treated like criminals, organized a sit-down protest on July 24 before the start of the 12th stage and on July 29 rode the entire 17th stage at a snail's pace. Of the 189 riders who started the Tour, fewer than 100 finished in Paris on Aug. 2. Seven teams had dropped out. In the meantime Judge Keil ruled on July 24 that Voet, who had spent 16 days in jail, could return to his home under "judicial custody" while awaiting trial.
Nearly a year later, what amazes Voet is how little his sport has changed. One drug-related scandal after another continues to surface in cycling, invariably followed by Virenque-like denials and protestations of innocence. Der Spiegel, the German news magazine, published an article in mid-June alleging that the Telekom team, which is led by 1997 Tour de France winner Jan Ullrich, systematically used a doping program similar to Festina's that involved growth hormones, steroids and EPO. The magazine cited team documents and an unnamed former team aide as its sources. Ullrich vehemently denied the allegations.
On June 5 Italian star Marco Pantani, who last year won the Tour de France and the Giro D'Italia, saw his title defense of the latter come to an abrupt end when he was ejected from the race—while holding more than a five-minute lead on the field—for having a hematocrit value of 52%. A surprise drug test at dawn before a grueling mountainous stage led to the disqualification. The normal range of hematocrit values in the blood is 44% to 46%, but EPO injections can raise them to 52%, 54%, even 60%, at which point the oxygen-rich blood runs like sludge through the veins, a condition that can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Despite the danger, many top cyclists continue to resist all attempts at more rigorous drug testing. French champion Laurent Jalabert, who leads the ONCE team and was the top-ranked rider in the world heading into this year's Tour, has refused to subject himself to a physical exam every three months as part of a stepped-up drug-testing regimen instituted this year by the French Cycling Federation, making himself ineligible for a French racing license. Jalabert has said he'll no longer compete in France, won't defend his French national title and won't be part of the French team at the world championships in Italy in October.
"The athletes are young, so they don't think about the dangers," says Voet, who has been barred from any association with racing for three years by the UCI. Festina stopped paying him his $40,000 salary the day of his arrest. Until his book was published, he'd been living on the salary his wife earns as a secretary in the Veynes town hall. "All [riders] care about is the money. They don't look at the long term."
Voet wrote Chain Massacre in the hope that it would lead to some sort of lasting reform in the sport. "Virenque said to me last fall, 'Willy, you lived cycling, and now you want to ruin it?' " Voet said of a confrontation outside Judge Keil's courtroom. "I said to him, 'No, I want to save it.' "
But he's pessimistic. The doping culture is too ingrained, the urge to cheat too strong. Performance-enhancing drugs have long been part of cycling. Voet says his grandfather, an amateur cyclist, telling him that he would use a mix of ether and sugar water before a race to expand his lungs. "That was 80 years ago," Voet says.
In 1956, 22-year-old Jacques Anquetil, who would go on to win the Tour de France five times, broke the world record for most miles pedaled in an hour. Afterward he baldly refused to go to antidoping control. Voet doubts it was a coincidence that Anquetil died of stomach cancer at 53.
In 1967 England's Tom Simpson died of asphyxiation during a mountain stage of the Tour de France when he literally pedaled until he could no longer breathe. An autopsy revealed high levels of amphetamines in his blood. "Simpson died taking dope, and it never stopped anything," says Voet, who remembers being given amphetamines before an amateur race in 1962. "Why should these revelations stop anything now? In this year's Tour de France there'll be just as many people using dope as before."