Doping at the 1998 Tour de France

The year in which the 1998 Tour de France took place marked the moment when cycling was fundamentally shattered by doping revelations. Paradoxically no riders were caught failing drug tests by any of the ordinary doping controls in place at the time. Nevertheless, several police searches and interrogations, managed to prove existence of organized doping at the two teams Festina and TVM, who consequently had to withdraw from the race. After stage 16, the police also forced the virtual mountain jersey holder Rodolfo Massi to leave the race, due to having found illegal corticosteroids in his hotel room. The intensive police work, then led to a peloton strike at stage 17, with a fallout of four Spanish teams and one Italian team deciding to leave the race in protest.

Many years later, retrospective tests and rider confessions confirmed the common suspicion, that consumption of EPO had not been limited to those being caught by the police, but in fact was something the majority of the peloton had used, at this point of time.

Police investigations and arrests

Three days ahead of the Tour start, the masseur of Team Festina, Willy Voet, was found at the Belgian border to have his car full of large quantities of syringes and controlled substances, including narcotics, erythropoietin (EPO), growth hormones, testosterone and amphetamines.[1] When raiding the Festina headquarters in France, the police also found a document with systematic drug programmes for the Festina riders.[2] As the Tour had started in Ireland, the French police waited to the first stage in France before arresting the Festina Team's directeur sportif and doctor: Bruno Roussel and Eric Rijckaert.[3] Faced by the evidence, Roussel and Rijckaert soon confessed, leading to all nine Festina riders (incl. notable riders such as 1997 runner-up Richard Virenque, Alex Zülle and Christophe Moreau), being forced to withdraw after stage 6.[4][5][6]

At the first rest day, after stage 11, the Festina affair got extended, with several other teams being searched by the police, and a second police investigation leading to long interrogations of TVM riders and imprisonment of the three TVM staffs: Cees Priem (manager), Andrei Mikhailov (doctor) and Jan Moors (soigneur). As a reaction to the treatment by the French police, the peloton staged a solidarity sit-down protest both during stage 12 and stage 17. The Tour directors later nullified the results of stage 17, as the peloton in a gesture had let all TVM-riders pass the finish line a couple of seconds ahead of the peloton. All four Spanish teams (ONCE, Banesto, Vitalicio Seguros, Kelme) and one Italian team (Riso Scotti) even decided to pull out of the race, at the urging of the ONCE team, led by the French National Champion Laurent Jalabert. After the stage, the police due to a suspicion of organized doping also at other teams, decided to search their hotels and arrested rider Rodolfo Massi (Casino) and the two team managers Marc Madiot (Française des Jeux) and Vincent Lavenu (Casino). Massi was at this point of time nr.7 in the GC and wearing the mountain jersey, but had to leave the race due to the police finding illegal corticosteroids in his hotel room.[7] He was also charged by the police for having sold EPO and other medicines to some riders in the peloton, as Voet had named him as one of his "business relationships",[8] but this criminal charge was later dropped — due to no additional proof found by police.[9] The Italian Olympic Committee subsequently only banned him six months for doping possession.[10]

After stage 17, all the six remaining TVM-riders in the race were escorted by the police to the nearest hospital, for submission of samples to an extra judicial ordered doping control. One day later, the TVM team decided also collectively to withdraw from the race, and thus became the final 7th team to withdraw.

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