Continuing Cyclingnews' extracts from Willy Voet's devastating best-seller. In this episode he details the system of accounting used within Festina and tells how the effects of Clenbuterol were tested on a surprising guinea pig.
Introduction and first extract
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October 25, 2000, Festina trial - the mud begins to fly, Festina case timeline
October 24, 2000, Festina trial - Virenque cracks
May 20, 1999, Willy Voet goes for the jugular
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The drugs concerned were EPO and a new arrival, growth hormone. It was decided that at the end of the season the cost of what each rider had consumed would be set against his bonuses and race winnings, which were shared out according to the races which he had started. The team would put up the money - about 150,000 francs. All the winnings were paid into a common account, and Joel Chabiron shared it out.
A large consumer would have about 80,000 francs set against his winnings. But, for example, in the 1997 season, which was particularly successful, we earned about 4,000,000 francs in prize money. Once the 15 per cent (about 600,000 francs) which went to the staff had been deducted, about 3,400,000 francs was left to be split between the cyclists. They didn't lose money under this system, which the press christened the 'slush fund' during the 1998 Tour.
The system was adjusted slightly a year later. We had realised that the lesser riders had trouble affording expensive drugs - an ampoule of EPO was about 450 francs, a dose of growth hormone about 550 francs - but they still contributed to the good of the team. At the request of Virenque and Herve in particular, the riders voted by a show of hands for the equal division of the outlay on drugs. It was almost a unanimous decision. (Bassons, Halgand and Lefevre, who never took drugs, had not yet been hired by Festina.) The new professionals were there but weren't really involved and those who objected simply had to give in to the decision of the majority. The new system led to abuse, with the less talented riders using more than they needed. This meant that the gold mine was increased, and the funds went up to 600,000 francs. As a result, in 1996, Virenque and Herve, seconded by Laurent Dufaux, wanted the team to go back to the system which had been set up two years earlier. Laurent Dufaux, who had been signed up from a Spanish team, was not in the least surprised by our system. Nor were other riders who came from opposing teams. They could not teach us anything that we didn't know already; all that varied was the system of funding. What's more, the soigneurs of the different teams often ended up helping each other out when we were short. There were certain colleagues on other teams with whom we would often barter a capsule of growth hormone or EPO. There was barter at a higher level as well. I've frequently sat in on discussions between the various team doctors where the same subject always came up: preparation. Essentially, everyone had the same weapons.
Even back as far as 1994, Virenque took an interest in how the EPO and growth hormone operation was proceeding. 'Do we have enough? Have you spoken about it with the doctor?' He asked so many questions, especially in the build-up to his principal aim, the Tour de France. Obviously it was in his interests that the team be as strong as possible to help him win the race, which always slipped from his fingers but which is where he became a celebrity. Virenque knew perfectly well what he was doing. His infamous 'without my knowledge of my own free will' -which is what he answered when asked if he took drugs - is a scandalous untruth.
The Festina system was kept running resolutely until 1998. The usual time, the usual place ... All we had to do was set up the deliveries, twice a year. In February 1994 Dr Jimenez brought the first consignment to Gruissan. After that Joel Chabiron transported the doses of EPO and growth hormone from Portugal. In France, I picked them up and stored them in my vegetable basket. It would have been possible to keep them in the refrigerator at the logistics base in Meyzieu, but we felt that it was safer for me to keep them in my home. I took care of distributing them among the riders involved, depending upon their race programme and their individual needs.
Because all the riders trusted me, it was agreed that I should keep accounts of what each one consumed during the year. Hence my famous notebooks. Day by day I recorded methodically what everyone took in a year planner. I kept the planner with me wherever I went. On the diary pages I wrote the riders' names and the stuff that was given to each of them. At the end of the season I totted up their intake and passed on the end-of-year accounts to Bruno Roussel.
To prevent anyone coming across the system unawares -after all, a notebook can be lost or stolen - I used codes for the different drugs: X for a dose of EPO, underlined in red; Z, for growth hormone, underlined in blue or green. At the start of the 1998 season I had to add another P. This ; particular code was also used in phone conversations or any ! time when we might be overheard, because it stood for Clenbuterol, a cheap anabolic, which is very hard to get hold of. Joel Chabiron apparently had the necessary contacts. Virenque, Herve, Magnien and Brochard among others had already been started on it in 1997, the year when Djamolidin Abduzhaparov, three times points winner in the Tour de France, was found positive on the Tour and was thrown off the race. Just for the record, Jean-Luc Vandenbroucke, the team manager, immediately dismissed the team soigneur, Laurent Van Brussel, to prove to the governing bodies that he was whiter than white. He had probably forgotten that in 1976 he was disqualified from Milan-San Remo after finishing second to Merckx because he tested positive himself.
Banned from the market in France, Clenbuterol is one of the most powerful hormones when it comes to developing muscular mass. Beef rearers are well aware of its properties: the more meat they can sell, the more money they make. It can give spectacular muscle growth. To work out its effects precisely, we needed a guinea-pig, but it couldn't be one of the riders. They are so happy to be given something new that they tend to lose all restraint and the whole peloton knows exactly what's happening over the next few weeks. We found the right man soon enough: me. Before the Dauphine Libere in 1996 I took ten pills over seven days, then urinated conscientiously into a jar from days five to eight after taking the final pill. The whole works was then sent to a laboratory in Ghent. The Clenbuterol had been eliminated from my system by day eight. For a cyclist, who will get rid of chemicals far more quickly than someone sedentary like me, the period was still shorter.
And the effects were felt almost immediately. Three hours after I took the first pill, I began shivering. I had the impression that my lungs were swelling, that I had a new battery somewhere in the system. I felt confident, full of energy, strong as a bull - on hormones. The effects lasted for more than a month, effects which we used with good results in the big Tours after that.
It was for this reason that in 1996 some French and Swiss riders did not compete in their national championships. Right then, they were in the middle of their Clenbuterol courses, and the only disastrous effects would have been those felt at the drug tests during the championships. The official reason given was a virus circulating in the team, which, according to the press, was giving us a lot of concern coming up to the Tour de France. In actual fact the whole team was at a training camp in the Pyrenees.
As a demanding endurance sport, cycling has always been a test bed for performance-enhancing substances. It didn't take me until the autumn of 1998 to find out about creatine, but this was when the newspapers went crazy about its use by footballers in Italy and rugby players in England. Creatine had been part of the cycling landscape since 1995.
Creatine is a legal substance which only builds up muscular mass if it is used in tandem with an anabolic agent such as nandrolone. It is found mainly in red meat. Without being a stimulant, it's a useful aid to endurance. Eric Rijckaert used to get it made in a laboratory in Ghent. The white powder was very costly, but you have to realise that one sachet was the equivalent of eating thirty steaks. And the day before a long time trial or a mountain stage, there were riders who would consume up to thirty grammes a day, washed down with water or yoghurt . . . Imagine sitting down to a hundred and eighty rare steaks. We had come a long way from the 1960s, when cyclists would eat a huge steak at six o'clock on the morning of a race, blissfully unaware that digesting it would devour 30 per cent of the energy they would gain from it.
As the seasons passed, many new arrivals in the team would invest in the slush fund as willingly as those who had come before them. Luc Leblanc (1994) and Laurent Brochard (1995) both came from similar milieux. When they appeared, Dr Rijckaert would always say that they had to be 'dekenakortised'. What he meant was that their intake of corticosteroids had to be drastically reduced. 'If they use corticosteroids to excess there'll be nothing left of them,' he would say. In spite of the sense of well-being which it brings, cortisone ends up destroying the muscles by increasing the demands which are made on them. This has the effect of making the tendons and joints far more fragile.
The years from 1994 to 1998 were crazy ones for the Festina team: full of success, constantly growing popularity and results which took us step by step to the head of the UCI's world team points rankings. These were the years of folly. Aside from the new boys and a few other clean riders who were left on the margins we would see the whole spectrum of drug-taking; everyone was at it, whatever team they were in. Even if some went further than others in the arms race. Remember Bjarne Riis's stunning win on the Hautacam climb in the 1996 Tour de France. The Dane, who was to win the race, literally played with his rivals before obliterating them. And the haematocrit level of his rivals, certainly at Festina, had been blithely boosted to about 54 per cent. His exploit was as perturbing for those in the know as it was spectacular to the uninitiated. Two years later from my prison cell I couldn't help laughing nervously when I saw Riis become the riders' spokesman as the Tour de France descended into farce. What kind of cycling was he defending?
To sum up, there was nothing I didn't know about what was going on in the other teams. There were other soigneurs who boasted about it, who thought they were big shots, convinced that they could make or break a champion. There were some who were on big bonuses from the riders whom they prepared. One of these was the Spanish masseur who had worked alongside many world-class cyclists and had offered his services to Alex Zulle at Festina. The Spaniard never made up to riders like Bassons or Medan. He had big ideas, and swore by the methods of Dr Michele Ferrari - Rominger's Italian trainer, who is now under investigation by Italian police for supplying banned substances. It was always Ferrari this and Ferrari that. I ended up having big shouting matches with him, as did Rijckaert, who was, in spite of everything we did, a believer in a certain amount of moderation.
You have to understand that by now training sessions were determined by the doses of banned drugs that riders were ingesting rather than the other way round. As soon as our backs were turned, there were Festina riders who were tiptoeing into the Spaniard's room. They just wanted to go 'faster, higher, stronger', in the words of the Olympic motto. Thus it was that Richard Virenque paid a visit to Ferrari at his home in Ferrara at the start of 1996. One consultation was enough. Richard came back in a rather perplexed state. Being prepared by the Italian would have worked out very expensive. What's more, teaming up with Ferrari was like putting a saucepan up your backside: it was immediately obvious what you were doing. And Virenque wanted at all costs to keep his family out of what he had to do. In my opinion this is the main reason why he continued to deny taking drugs even if it flew in the face of all the evidence. In the same vein, Dufaux informed me at the start of 1998 that he and this rider had consulted a Swiss doctor who had a reputation as one of the biggest 'chargers' in his profession. And they'd been going for the last two years!
But, as I always used to say over and over again: 'A champion is not made by the drugs he takes.'
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