News for July 31, 1998

The drugs scandal update

TVM out of Tour

The remaining 5 TVM riders will not start on Friday. They say they are too emotionally and physically tired to continue racing and will fly back to the Netherlands this morning. They have to be back in Reims on Monday at 10.00.

However, there is a sentiment that they should refuse to appear and put pressure on the Dutch government.

Blijlevens said: "I stopped in Switzerland, because the French police told us during the hearings on Tuesday night that we have to be in Reims on Monday; but... that they would follow us during the rest of the Tour just in case we abandoned. They would then pick us up and bring us to Reims immediately. So now I am in Switzerland which is a free country and I'm free until Monday. The French police told me I can expect to stay in Reims for at least two days"

In the Dutch daily newspaper, the Algemeen Dagblad, Aart Vierhouten (Rabobank) is quoted as saying: "I'm glad to be in Boxmeer on Monday on Dutch soil. In my opinion the TVM guys should not go to Reims on Monday. They should stay in Holland and put some pressure on the Dutch government. Because you don't have any rights in France - this issue has brought that home to all of us. The police can put you in cell on suspician. You can be guilty in their eyes without any proof!

Adri van Houwelingen (teammanager Rabobank) said: "I am already thinking about the next tour - the Regio Tour in Germany. I am looking forward to it. I know how quiet it is in that Tour - with good hotels and good organisation. There we will only talk about cycling. Nothing else."

A Dutch contractor, A. van Wijnen from Zeeland, has decided to import his steel from Germany instead of France. On Wednesday he stopped doing business with his French relations. "I hate the arrogant attitude of the French. I agree you have to do something to stop the doping, but not in this Middle-Ages way."

Claudia Belmas of the French ambassady in The Hague: "I don't think the French police is any more strict than the Dutch. It's not easy for riders to be questioned in the night but that's always better than during daytime. Now they can do the Tour de France during daytime...' What a joke!

The Little Chemist

Rodolfo Massi (Casino) and team doctor Nicolas Terrados (ONCE) have been taken from Chambéry to Lille this morning. Investigating judge Patrick Keil, who is presiding over the Festina case, will interrogate them. A drug was found in Massi's hotel room and the reports are that he a suspect in the Festina drugs network. And Terrados will be asked to explain the discovery of forbidden drugs in the ONCE truck earlier in the week.

The Danish media reports that Bo Hamburger has said that he also used the stuff they found in Massi's room. The Danish press is also reporting that Massi is being accused of smuggling illegal medicine across the border from Italy into France.Also he's according to the Danish media been accused for smuggling illegal medicine across the border from Italy to France. And in the peloton he has the nickname: "The little chemist"

Interview with 1966 Tour winner, Lucien Aimar

Roger Thomas has sent me this translation from L'Equipe of an interview with 1996 Tour de France winner Lucien Aimar. It was published by L'Equipe on July 25, a few days before the major police hassles with the Tour.

Since 1974 Aimar has been the organiser of the Tour Mediterraneen. Readers may not agree with Aimar's point of view, but it's certainly thought-provoking...

Q - Since your victory in 1966 you have never returned to the Tour. The least that can be said is that you've certainly chosen your moment to do so...

Aimar - I've discovered, like everybody else, that there are some new products and if I believe what I hear it's a catastrophe. The whole business remains confused. I hear, I read, that EPO is freely on sale in Switzerland, that it's not detectable, that it could be dangerous, but that it gives riders an advantage. What shocks me is that the Tour has ejected Festina and that the UCI hasn't suspended the team! Thus the Tour is in contradiction with the UCI. That said, the Tour has got some good arguments: a team soigneur was caught with a car stuffed full of banned products.

Q - What solutions do you suggest?

Aimar - To go all the way. That the teams demand to be heard by the Ministry of Sports, the Ministry of Labour, the council of the doctors' association, the [French cycling] federation. That the doctors disclose what they have given to riders, and the dangers to which they've exposed them. And that [the authorities] stop persecuting them [the riders]. For they've certainly been persecuted. If doping has become a big thing it's because it was said, in 1967, that Simpson died because he took amphetamines [translator's note: Aimar's "logic" here becomes clearer a few questions on]

Q - You're saying he didn't die from doping? You are sure?

Aimar - I'm sure. I knew Tom well. After 10 days of racing he was fading away. In 1967 he was preparing to join [Felice] Gimondi's Salvarani team, on the sole condition that he finished the Tour. So he had only one goal: to finish. I knew from a team mate of Tom's, Vin Denson, that Simpson was exhausted and that for 12 days he hadn't taken any nutrients except through perfusion [presumably this can only mean an intravenous drip, my medical expert tells me the usual English term for this is "infusion"], because he couldn't swallow anything. It was his debility that killed him.

Q - You were at his side on Mont Ventoux?

Aimar - I came back up to him after having punctured. Van Springel and Letort were with us. The heat was suffocating. I offered him a drink but he didn't hear me. He had a totally empty look, and the extraordinary thing was that he tried to jump me! [il me flinguait la gueule!] He took 250 metres out of me. I said to him: "Tom, don't play the bloody fool! [Tom, fais pas le con!] But he didn't respond. A moment later, he was on my back wheel. I heard a cry, I didn't see him fall.

Q - He was no longer fully aware?

Aimar - His comportment was totally abnormal

Q - The way a rider is who's taken amphetamines?

Aimar - Yes, certainly, but it's necessary to understand that even 1,000mg in 24 hours is not a fataal dose for a human being. And Simpson had taken, at most, 30mg. Had it not been for his anaemic state he wouldn't have died. What killed him wasn't the dope, nor Ventoux

Aimar - even if Ventoux was a monument to heat. The true guilt lay with medical science. What pushed him into his coffin was the person who administered an intravenous drip [c'est celui qui lui faisait du goutte-a-goutte], the thing that made it possible for him to go on restarting [each day].

Q - So you reckon it's scandalous to label Simpson as a symbol of doping?

Aimar - Yes, scandalous. We don't have the right, in the name of putting across a message, to sully the good name of a rider like him. They made an emblem of him. And in the end that turned back against medicine. As a result of putting in the forefront the problem of Simpson and amphetamines; as a result of the tightening of drug controls, riders were impelled towards more and more dangerous medicaments.

Q - Your career coincided with the institution of controls. How did that take effect in the pelotons?

Aimar - Doctor Dumas began by making us submit to tests under the aegis of the French amateur team in 1962-63. It was known that the Giro d'Italia doctor gave amphetamines to riders suffering from fever [?qui avaient un coup de chaud]. We submitted urine samples, and details of the medicaments that we'd taken were noted. No sanctions were imposed and the results were kept confidential. Dumas used this to find out how to detect all the drugs then in circulation. Controls were intensified from 1966 on. I underwent drug controls four times in the Tour de France I won. Afterwards the French federation put things in the hands of the state to accelerate things.

Q - The police turned up and broke down riders' doors?

Aimar - Yes, I remember that in 1968 Bellone was taken, perhaps even Motta. They won their cases before the courts of law because they were able to prove that they'd been doped surreptitiously. A rider is always susceptible to being given a bidon by a spectator.

Q - This intrusion by the police was deeply resented by the riders?

Aimar - It was traumatic. We had our pride. I was declared positive at the Fleche Wallonne in 1967. I had driven all night, from Spain, and I'd taken Corydrane to stay awake. It's a medicine given to impotent men to stir them up. After a week they gave me back my second place because the drug was not on the banned list. They put it on later. [translator's note. Aimar is a bit confused about dates here. It was in 1966 that he came second in the Fleche; in 1967 he came 12th]. The whole business went through several stages. At one point one couldn't even drink a cup of coffee, else one could be declared positive, nor be massaged, because the law forbade any exterior help to the natural capabilities of the athlete - even the draining of the lymphatic system! With the drug controls medicaments moved onto a new stage. One couldn't find them on free sale.

Q - Could one say that at one period a certain folklore attached itself to drug-taking?

Aimar - On the contrary. Each rider looked after himself individually, incognito, in a state of suspicion towards other riders. We didn't know what Gimondi or Poulidor or Anquetil took.

Q - In 1967, Anquetil, at the height of his fame, declared: "I take drugs because everybody takes drugs." In his position wasn't this nothing less than courageous?

Aimar - Anquetil found it insupportable that anyone considered him a cheat. He considered that the struggle against drug-taking was an intrusion on his private life. Anquetil always refused to undergo drug controls: after his hour record in 1967; at the World Championships at Nurburgring in 1966 [Anquetil finished second to Rudi Altig], where he had even decided not to go up on the podium. Again, it was he who instigated the demonstration by riders in the 1966 Tour, during the stage to Landes. I was also possessed by a certain idea of cycling: in 1967 I refused to wear the French national champion's jersey after Letort had been declassified for doping. Out of solidarity. Because Letort had beaten me fair and square. I didn't want it said that amphetamines win races.

Q - It's a fallacious notion?

Aimar - It's fallacious. If tomorrow the whole peloton rode on mineral water, the same people would win. Here's proof. In 1973-74, when they tightened up the controls, it was the "old guys", Bracke and Godefroot, who came to win races again.

Q - Thirty years later we are at the same point

Aimar - There have always been two sorts of riders: those who want to make a career, to be recognised, and therefore ready to make compromises; and the others: those who consider that all this is only a limited period of their lives. It's necessary to talk openly about doping, because doping can be dangerous. When cortisone came onto the market, in 1969, I saw riders who were able to get through difficult periods [through using it]. Later on one saw it becoming "domesticated". It was necessary [?when taking it] not to take salt or drink alcohol. In small doses it brought down fever; it was a very powerful anti-inflammatory. The reckoning came 15 years later: [it became clear] it had doleful effects

Aimar - it made the cartilages swell, attacked the tendons, that became clear when [Freddy] Maertens found that his injuries would no longer heal.

Q - You're contradicting yourself. On the one side you're saying that the riders are being persecuted; on the other you're saying: be warned! it's dangerous. What about EPO?

Aimar - All I'm saying is that those who prescribe these substances to riders without giving them the opportunity to say no are assassins! If you say to a young rider: "Take EPO and in 15 years you'll be dead" and he surely won't take it."

Q - Leaving aside these problems, has coming back to the Tour been a pleasure for you?

Aimar - I'm proud to have won such an important event but if the Tour is big it's because it had characters like Bobet and Anquetil, both prematurely worn out and those like Simpson who gave their lives, not because of drugs but because they pursued their work to the utmost of their passion. It's also for this reason that when I come to the Tour I don't feel like an intruder.

Q - A last question; the most difficult one: of all the Tour's winners, you're the least well known. Don't you find that unjust?

Aimar - I haven't suffered from this because I never set out to be well known. On the other hand, I felt a certain animosity towards [then Tour director] Felix Levitan who was for me [ostensibly] a great gentleman. When I won the Tour he did everything he could to have me lose. It would be nice if one day Altig would disclose precisely what Levitan proposed to him to make me lose; to attack from the start of the stage to Montlucon. In 10 Tours, [Jean] Stablinski says he never saw a peloton in such eager pursuit of one rider. [Raymond] Poulidor and [Jan] Janssen, who I'd dropped on the col de la Coletta chased together after me, something that was forbidden since there was collusion between them to do so.

Q - Why did you wait so long to say this?

Aimar - I would never have said anything had Levitan not said that my victory was the only bone that still stuck in his throat. He propagated a big falsehood when he said I'd benefited from a breakdown in the race radio.

Q - Levitan, not Goddet?

Aimar - Goddet wasn't involved; he wrote for the papers. Levitan was all-powerful. At that time he wanted to manipulate the results, And I'm speaking out now because he lied, and I can't abide lying. And because it was dastardly to attack a young rider of 24 to cast aa slur on my win.

Q - People also say that you owe this victory to Anquetil...

Aimar - I owe more than that to Anquetil. I could, though, say that I sacrificed a lot myself for Anquetil, in the Dauphine [Libere] in 1965 or in the Giro. But to say that wouldn't serve any useful purpose

Aimar - and then again, one can't go against a legend. [translator's note: in the 1966 Tour Poulidor and Anquetil did their best to stymie each other; meanwhile Anquetil's domestique, Aimar, built up a lead. Anquetil then pulled out of the race, claiming illness and saying: "I have done what I can for Lucien; I would only be in his way from now on." Levitan's anger can perhaps be explained by these events: he had been deprived of the publicity-rich "spectacle" of Anquetil struggling yet again for victory with Poulidor.]