Second Edition News for August 12, 1998

Drugs Update

Francesco Casagrande goes positive

Francesco Casagrande has returned a positive drug test and his team has released a statement confirming that he will be sacked. He tested positive during the Tour of Romandy (Switzerland). Both tests (June 29 and June 30) we conducted by an accredited laboratory in Cologne and indicated that he had been using an unspecified, but banned performance-enhancing drug.

Casagrande, in denial mode, then requested further analysis which was accepted and also confirmed the use of illegal drugs. The Cofidis team statement said: `Francesco Casagrande should be excluded from the Cofidis team if sanctions are imposed againt him by cycling's disciplinary authorities. As we told all the cyclists of the team, at the start of the season, the group Sportif Cofidis must embody values of honesty and integrity and does not want in any case to accept, or to support any act of doping.

The question now is how long it will take for the Italian Cycling Federation to give him the flick. If the behaviour of the Swiss Federation is any guide it should take many weeks. One has to be continually amazed by this. The rules are clear. The tests are positive. So where are the sanctions. The only thing we see are reports of meetings in Lausanne where everyone says they are committed to doing something about this problem.

4 other Italians fail tests

Casagrande was the 5th Italian yesterday to be linked to illegal drug use. 4 other riders from the Mobilvetta team were thrown out of the Tour of Portugal after they failed blood tests. The 4 riders - Paolo Alberti, Graziano Recinella, Mario Monzoni and Renzo Ragnetti - are now suspected of using EPO, according to the spokesperson for the race organisation, Armando Santiago.

Meeting in Lausanne

Meanwhile, the riders met with the UCI on Tuesday in Lausanne. The early results of the meetings are that there will be some big changes in the sport to eliminate the endemic and systematic drug use by riders. Statements coming out of the meeting appear to be suggesting that races have to be shorter and less frequent and the season shortened. Riders and ex-riders who were present included Miguel Indurain, Tony Rominger, Laurent Jalabert, Pascal Richard, Luc Leblanc, Stephane Heulot, Maurizio Fondriest and Johan Bruyneel.

Jalabert, seemingly acting as the spokesperson of the riders' group, told the press that: "It isn't just a problem of doping, it is a lot of things. The length of the races, the big Tours are maybe too long, too difficult. Maybe the season is too long, too complicated. Maybe we have to review the entire system to avoid inciting certain racers to use doping."

From the bureaucrats side, Hein Verbruggen, said that: "The riders came in with many storie. We were told about a racer's life and how difficult the burden of races is. We must conduct a scientific study to see if the races are too demanding."

The issue of amnesty was not resolved but was touched on at the 8-hour meeting.

Further meetings are scheduled today (with race organisers) and there will be a tri-partite statement issued on Thursday. I will bring the full text then.

TVM to Reims

15 TVM-riders have been summoned to return to Reims. Their lawyer Joost van Mierlo expects that after these meetings at the beginning of September, team manager Cees Priem and soigneur Jan Moors will be able to leave France. Currently they are free from prison but unable to leave French territory.

The riders who have to go to Reims are: Peter van Petegem, Laurent Roux, Lars Michaelsen, Michael Andersson, Olivier Asmaker, Geert van Bondt, Johan Capiot, Davy Dubbeldam, Hendrik van Dyck, Tristan Hoffman, Miquel van Kessel, Michael Lafis, Nicolaj-Bo Larsen, Claus Möller and Pieter Vries.

Reaction to the Neil Stephens selection

Earlier today I reported the rather stunning decision by the Australian Cycling Federation to select Neil Stephens for the Commonwealth Games road team, despite the furore surrounding his expulsion from the Tour de France because his team was implicated in systematic and organised doping of its riders. For his part, Neil has said he thought he was taking vitamins. Ray Godkin, president of CA, has said he is ignoring the Festina issue because: "As far as I'm concerned he's clean, he's always been clean and we have no problem with him at all. We welcome him into the team."

An alternative view was expressed in an article written in the national daily, The Australian on August 12 and was written by Rupert Guinness and John MacDonald under the heading - "Drug squad rider off to KL".

They began by recognising that the decision was controversial because of the discovery that he "had been administered synthetic EPO by the team doctor" at Festina along with the other riders. 3 riders have admitted knowingly being involved in the scheme of performance-enhancement. The manager has outlined the systematic doping of riders.

Stephens was initially thinking of retirement. The reaction of other leading sport's identities in Australia reported by Guinness and MacDonald reflects what many Australians will think. They cite the tireless anti-doping campaigner, swimming coach Forbes Carlile who said that the selection was "a bit cavalier". Carlile likened the inaction of CA to that of the swimming authorities. He is quoted in the article as saying: They're as bad as FINA (the international swimming body). It's a bit odd. Absence of proof is not proof of absence ... [emphasis added by Bill]... You've got to use a bit of common sense. It doesn't look good for Australia."

With the 2000 Olympics approaching, Carlile said that the selection made us look less potent in terms of the war on sports in drugs. He told the reporters that he thought cycling had a well-advanced and documented drug culture.

In closing, they also cite more from CA President Ray Godkin. He said that the Festina revelations were "not considered at all." He said that Neil Stephens told him that if he were given EPO "it was unknown to him."

Okay, maybe it was unknown. Believe what you will. But if it happened it was illegal. The rules don't say that the rider had to know about it. The fact that the Festina team practices are now out in the public domain indicate that they have to be considered and cannot be ignored no matter how good a bloke Neil Stephens is.

Netherlands, Surhuisterveen, Criterium 80 kms:

 1. Marco Pantani (Ita) Mercatone Uno
 2. Maarten den Bakker (Ned) Rabobank
 3. Servais Knaven (Ned) TVM