News for August 2, 1998

Marco Pantani to Mapei and the Vuelta

It has just been announced on Belgium TV that Marco Pantani will sign with Mapei next year. He has also said that he will now try to win the Vuelta this year. He told an Italian newspaper that if he wins the Tour de France (which he now seems likely to achieve) he will then aim to win the Tour of Spain.

The drugs scandal update

- It is now alleged that Gilles Bouvard (Casino) obtained drugs prior to Luik-Bastenaken-Luik from somebody on his own team. No names will be mentioned. Vice-attorney of the Court in Lille, Vinsonneau, announced this late on Friday. Vinsonneau said: "Massi is charged now, and the Casino team doctor is being investigated. Further, the interrogation of Alex Zulle gave us the possibility to investigate ONCE, and this in turn led us to the ex-Festina riders, Gilles Bouvard and Magnien." So the birds have been singing.

-Rodolfo Massi, now the first to be formally charged has been released under harsh conditions. He is not allowed to have any contact with the cycling community which means he is denied his profession. He cannot ride. He has to stay at an address in France and within a month be accessible for the judiciary.

- Jeroen Blijlevens didn't quite make it to free soil unscathed. When he landed in Brussels he was detained because he did not have his passport. He had to stay at Zaventem until his girlfriend returned with his passport. The riders flew from Zurich but their luggage went by car. The passport was with his clothes in the car.

Le Monde - The Broken Legend

The leading French daily, published a lead-in to an 8-page special on the Tour in the wake of the drugs scandal.

The said: After three weeks of road, more marked drugs business and the legal consequences than by the exploits of the rider, the Tour de France now comes into the capital to the Champs-Elysées. On Friday, the former holder of the KOM jersey, Italian Rodolfo Massi (Casino), was charged with "inciting and facilitating the use of doping substances " and "importing, selling and transferring poisonous substances". It is a first in the history of the Tour de France, soon to be in its 100th year. The rider was freed under bail by the court in Lille.

... Cycling is not the only sport troubled by drugs, but given the last 3 weeks, it will be hard to repair its image. It is now clear that there is organised and systematic doping of riders by teams. Le Monde asks: "How can we believe (the Tour) can start up again in 1999 as if nothing had happened?

Le Monde is highly critical of the riders, reflecting its right-wing ideology. It doesn't for one minute think about the pressures that the capitalist sponsors put on riders who are still largely from working class backgrounds. It doesn't see that this is a worker-capital issue. Instead it blames the riders who are seen as breaking the rules of the sport, and the laws of the land. Who appear to be resentful of legal intervention by police into their criminal activities and their contempt for the traditions of the sport (viz.. the strike on Wednesday).

The Society of the Tour de France now has an image problem to address in addition to the normal organisation for next year. The Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc told the press today that there will be major changes. They will complement the decision by the UCI to introduce compulsory medical check from January 1.

French National Track Championships

While the Tour de France has been in crisis, the French National Championships have been quietly going about their business in anonymity. The track riders did not however miss out on being questioned by the press about whether they were also using drugs to improve their sporting performance. But, they do not seem to be overly concerned by any sudden police attention.

Yves Perpignan, who has spent more than half of his 62-years in the world of track racing said to the press: "We test the first three in each event, which adds up to 78 tests in 6 days. The controls are extremely rigorous and have always been so."

An international police chief is hired to supervise the testing at Hyères.

1996 Olympic champion, Florian Rousseau, has had repeated phone calls from the press to his home during the last week. He said the press has followed him to Hyères and that he had had enough and would not comment any further.

But 1996 Olympic champion, Felicia Ballanger and 1997 World Pursuit Champion Philippe Ermenault were more forthcoming. Ballanger told the press: "When I saw what occurred on the beginning of the Tour de France, I said myself that it was about time it came out into the open. Not being there makes it difficult to comment specifically. But it is time that something is done about it. I was also worried by the attitude of the public who seemed to turn a blind eye to the fact that the riders they applaud are cheats. In track cycling, I cannot measure the extent that drugs are being used. although I know that there is doping going on. I might be naive. Once, I was asked by a team manager to see a guy who he said would help me. He was a dealer in a gymnasium and he offered banned drugs to me. I refused. It was, however, the only time drugs have ever been offered to me."

Magali Humbert-Faure, 4th in the World sprint Championships in 1997, thinks there is a difference between road cycling and track cycling.

This is a point that Philippe Ermenault agrees with. He told the press that: "Everyone knows that high performance are not made with water.... But, from there to take prohibited products, there is a margin.

National French coach Gerard Quintyn stated that the margin is wide because there is very little gain for a track rider in taking EPO. He told the press: "Only steroids could be useful... But they are detectable by the controls in force. I stand as guarantor that all my riders are clean."