News for December 2, 1998

Big Day for Festina riders

The Festina trio arrive at the court

The 3 French Festina riders, Richard Virenque, Laurent Brochard and Pascal Hervé arrived at the Palais de Justice in Lille yesterday just after 9.30 accompanied by their lawyer Gilbert Collard. The three have come to hear the results of the analyses that were done on the samples they submitted on July 23 after being expelled from the Tour de France. According to a source close to the testing the analyses reveal that 8 of the the 9 Festina riders were using EPO.

Judicial sources said there was evidence that the eight riders had taken the EPO and growth hormone and four had taken amphetamines. Virenque and Herve have both protested their innocence from the first time the allegations were made. Laurent Brochard also denied knowingly taking any banned substances.

The scientific analysis has apparently established the prescence of externally-taken EPO in 8 cases. In the case of Christophe Moreau (the 9th rider), who admitted to using EPO within the Festina system, the results are indeterminate although they claim there are traces of amphetamines.

Moreau has a history of drug use. He tested positive after winning the Criterium international to steroid use. The research allegedly shows that Herve, Brochard and Didier Rous were using amphetamines.

The report to be read in Judge Kiel's chambers is quoted as saying that "The riders took EPO exogenously, meaning the hormone was given to them externally."

For 4 riders, the hemacrit levels were below 50 percent. Virenque, Armin Meier and Moreau recorded levels of 49.3% and Laurent Dufaux recorded 47.4 percent. Five riders were above the 50 per cent limit - Brochard (50.3), Neil Stephens (50.3), Didier Rous (51), Alex Zulle (52.3) and Pascal Herve (52.6).

Virenque is still saying that there is no trace of amphetimine in his test results and his blood level was below the legal 50 per cent. The scientists agree that the blood levels are not sufficient to establish the use of EPO. They argue that it "is the combination of certain levels - iron, proteins, red blood cells ... which are the determining factors."

And the Court says

Judge Kiel concluded after meeting with the riders that the analysis of the tests showed that Richard Virenque, Laurent Brochard and Pascal Herve had taken illegal doping products. The judge told Virenque that he was convinced that he had used banned substances.

The 3 riders had issued a demand on the court to allow them access to the report. They were then summoned to appear in a session with Kiel.

All 9 Festina riders who started in the Tour de France this year were implicated by the report. The report showed that the tests revealed evidence of human growth hormone, amphetamines, steroids, corticoids, and in every case EPO.

As he was leaving the court in Lille, Virenque continued to deny the charges and said that in fact the report was evidence that he was clear providing a very different interpretation to that put on the results by the experts and the judge.

He told the press outside the court: "All the biological parameters and tests prove scientifically that I'm not doped ... There is no trace of steroids, growth hormone, corticoids, amphetamines or masking products. Moreover my hematocrite level is below 50%."

His hematocrite level was recorded at 49.3 percent. The consulting medical expert to the Court, Dr. Francois Bressolle said this figure was much higher than the average level found in people of around 42-44 per cent. But although that is no scientific evidence against Virenque, per se, Bressolle said that the method he used to calculate the levels was different to the standard blood test being used, for example, by the UCI. He said he calculated the level of transferin which allows him to conclude more accurately whether the hemocrit level has been boosted by external EPO intake.

Again there is a problem of interpretation. Virenque recorded a level of 4.4 using this method of computation and he claimed that the suspicious range was when the transferin level was above 10.

It now remains to see what the reaction of the French Cycling Federation is. They alone can ban or exonerate Virenque. He seemed to think that given the problems of interpreting the report's findings that he will not be banned in 1999.

Grand Prix des Nations has a new home(s)

The Grand Prix des Nations ITT will start in the Seine-Maritime region of France from 1999 for the next 3 years. The race will swap around three towns in that time. In 1999, it will be organised at Forges-les-Eaux. In 2000, it will be the turn of Dieppe and then Havre in 2001.

The agreement was signed on Tuesday in a hotel in the region by the President of the Consul General of Seine-Maritime Charles Revet and the Director General of the Société du Tour de France, Jean-Marie Leblanc.

In 1999, the Grand Prix des Nations will be contested over a 35 kms circuit and will be covered twice by the Elite field and once by Women and the Under-23's.

The organisers said at the signing that the decision to award the Grand Prix des Nations to the region of Seine-Maritime was directly attributable to the success of the organisation of the Rouen stage start in the 1997 Tour de France, and the stages to Forges-les-Eaux and Saint-Valéry-en-Caux."

Between 1993 and 1997, the Grand Prix des Nations was contested on the shores of Lac de Madine, in the region of the Meuse.

Dutch rider of the year awards

On Monday evening in Den Bosch, Rabobank rider Michael Boogerd was awarded the prestigious Gerrit Schulte Trophy for being adjudged the best Dutch cyclist of 1998. He came 5th on GC in the Tour de France and figured prominently in the World Road Championships and several of the classics.

He was was awarded the Trophy by the Mayor of Den Bosch Tom Rombouts. The Toboga Cup for the "rider of the future" went to Karsten Kroon. World Individual Time Trial Champion Leontien Van Morrsel won the Keetie van Oosten-Hage Cup for the women's rider of 1998 while Richard Groenendaal won the Club 48 Cup for being the best cyclocrosser.

Coaching positions in the Netherlands sealed

The KNWU (Koninklijke Nederlandse Wielren Unie) has named two new national coaches: Monique Knol for the junior women and Peter Pieters for the track. Both took 2 year contracts and will begin on January 1.

34-year old Monique Knol will replace Ingrid Haringa, who has decided to pursue a career in skating. She will be a part-time coach. 36-year old Peter Pieters will be the full-time Dutch track coach replacing Eric Geserick was fired because of the bad results.

Monique Knol was for a long time one of the best women's riders in the world. He final sprint was a mighty weapon and took her to many victories including the Olympic title in Seoul. She retired a year ago. She works part-time for the KNWU and also is a cycling journalist.

Peter Pieters rode well on the road and the track. The rider from Zwanenburger shall work together with the road coach Gerrie Knetemann to integrate the road and track squads.

Sad News at Mercury

Mercury Cycling Team Member, Ernie Lechuga, was operated on Wednesday to remove a cancerous tumor from his left testicle. He has 2 more tumors in his stomach that will be evaluated after he begins radiation and chemotherapy treatments. He will receive the results of the tumor biopsy on Wednesday, December 2nd. He should begin treatment in 3-4 weeks.

He will be under the supervision of our team doctor Prentice Steffan. All medical questions should be directed towards him. He can be reached at All other questions can be directed to me.

The Mercury Cycling Team and all its sponsors support Ernie and expect that he will be able to make a full and complete recovery. Doctors predict that with no further complications, that he should be able to resume training soon. It is my hope that Ernie will be able to race in the latter part of 1999. Therefore, he will retain his position on the team and there are no plans to replace him or add another rider.

The Mercury Cycling Team is in the process of establishing a fund to help the family pay for Ernie's medical expenses. We will make an announcement when that occurs.

Ernie Lechuga - 29/4/76 - Member of the 1997 and 1998 U.S. National Team. Member of the Tour L'Avenir team and has been a member of the Mercury Cycling Team since June of 1998.