News for July 12, 1998

Drug Scandal at the Tour

The 1998 Tour de France has now started and not exactly in the way that the official results will record. It was announced yesterday that the soigneur of the the French Festina team was arrested on Thursday on the French-Belgian border by customs officials for carrying banned substances.

The French Minister for the Sports, Marie-George Dresser, who is in Dublin for the start of the Tour requested that everyone calm down prior to the final results of the investigation being known. He concurred with officials that strong sanctions would be given against any riders or team officials who were implicated in the affair.

He is reported by the French media as saying: "We must first confirm the information. If the facts are exact, they are of an extreme gravity because they are significant quantities."

Willy Voet, soigneur for Festina and the personal carer for team leader Richard Virenque, was stopped in his Festina Tour car last Thursday close to Neuville-in-Férain, near Lille in northern France. The customs officers discovered a few hundreds of grams and capsules of anabolic steroids, as well as EPO, and other doping products and syringes. Voet, has been the personal soigneur to Richard Virenque since the days of RMO. He was detained in police custody in Lille.

He is reported as saying that the drugs were for his personal use. What a joke! A legal investigation is now underway. The presumption is that the drugs were intended for riders in the Festina team. The Festina offices were searched on Thursday evening in Lyon and other suspect products were seized.

In Voet's car alone the customs officers found 250 bottles of EPO coming from three laboratories in Germany and Switzerland. In all, 400 bottles and ampules of various products were found. Enough for the Tour! Voet is alleged to have driven from Lyon and to Switzerland and onto Germany before returning to Belgium.

The director of the Tour de France, Jean-Marie Leblanc, said that the Tour organisation was not concerned and would not take any immediate sanctions. He is reported as saying: "If it is about a business of doping, it does not concern us. It was not a rider, it was not in race and the arrest occurred hundreds of kilometers away from the race. When the investigation is finished, we will be able to react. We have often said we are against doping."

Leaders of the Festina team, which has three of the top Tour contenders - Richard Virenque, Alex Zülle and Laurent Dufaux, will attend hearings when they return from Ireland on Monday evening or Tuesday. The French Government has confirmed that they will require explanations.

Questioned the day before by Reuters, Bruno Roussel, sporting director of Festina, expressed his great surprise. He said: "I know nothing. It must be a question of a dirty trick."

The arrest of Willy Voet was the culmination of a long investigation by police and customs officers who have been concerned about the drug networks in Europe.