News for September 9, 1998

Drugs Update - The Shocks continue

The Monday edition of France-Soir, has published an official report of the hearing that was conducted with riders from the Festina team, in July in Lyon and by police officers in Lille. The police in Lille have confirmed the report is authentic. The report clearly indicates that during these hearings in police custody July the 23 and 24, "Richard Virenque and Pascal Herve always denied having been doped. The seven other riders admitted to knowing about organised doping within the team or of riders using individual drug strategies."

Mr. Vinsonneau, teh first assistant prosecuter said that the results of the blood, urinary and capillary tests, taken from the riders during the police custody will not be available until the beginning of October. "I await them impatiently. That will allow us to resume the investigation."

The examining magistrate Patrick Keil may call the riders back to Lille either as a group or individually. The investigation must now determine how the riders gained the drugs and how much they took. Under French drugs law the sanction is against the provider rather than the user.

France-Soir also published the extracts of the hearings hearings of 7 of the 9 riders heard in Lyon, quoting in detail the testimony of Richard Virenque, Pascal Herve, Laurent Brochard and Christophe Moreau, as well as Alex Zulle, Laurent Dufaux and Armin Meier.

The front page of Tuesday's L'Equipe also features the extracts. Here is a sample courtesy of my mate E. Bell.

According to France Soir newspaper this is what the Festina riders said to the Police of Lille while they were being held in custody on the 23 and 24 July in Lyon.

Zulle: I acknowledge having made use of EPO for about 4 years ... The first time, I was riding for the Spanish team ONCE. I used these drugs for each important race such as the Tour de France, the Giro, the Spanish Tour, having two injections of EPO 2000 per week, for about 3-4 weeks before each race and for the duration of the race ... While I was part of the ONCE team, this practice of using EPO operated in the same way, and I can say that the 20 or so riders consumed EPO under the control of Drs Terrados and another one called José ... I can't prove it but I think that these days you can find EPO in all the big teams ...

In today's cycling races, every rider knows that if they don't use EPO, they'll be left behind ... . For the first time, during the Tour de France this year, I took growth hormones as well as EPO ... It was Dr Rijkaert who gave me every two days during the first week of the Tour, a dose of growth hormones that I injected myself ...

Brochard: I can't judge the quantities that were injected ... sometimes I also injected myself ... I also used growth hormones, in a very limited quantity ... Bruno Roussel continually put pressure on us for us to get results. He didn't hesitate to incite us to consult the doctor and if need be to have recourse to the usual product... When I tried to stop taking EPO, I asked myself whether my performance would be at the same level. I therefore didn't risk stopping.

Laurent Dufaux: The most important dosages of EPO were given more frequently just before doing important races such as the Tour de France ... It was taken after certain stage arrivals in the hotel room. The EPO was already prepared in a needle which was brought to me in general by Dr Rijkaert. Then he injected it or I did it myself.

Richard Virenque: I never asked for drugs. Moreover, I didn't need them ... Concerning myself, I always had confidence in Dr Rijkaert. After this business, I obviously can't certify that Dr. Rijkaert never administered drugs to me without my knowledge.

Pascal Herve: We received injections from Dr Rijkaert ... However, I confirm that I did not know the exact nature of the injected product. For me, it concerned products for my recuperation and I didn't try to know more because I had confidence in the team doctor. If the products that were injected into me were "doping products" it was because I was misled ... I realise that there was a real organisation concerning doping in our team ... I'm guilty of having had blind confidence in my entourage.

Armin Meier: At Festina, I only had EPO ... In the team, I know a colleague who didn't take drugs ... It was Christophe Bassons. His results showed it, moreover ... Before going to Festina, I used to get the drugs myself in Switzerland ... In fact, with Festina, I think that the rider was well followed up medically and in terms of taking EPO, that was reassuring. At least, I had medical surveillance.

Christophe Moreau: I knew very well that Rijkaert gave me EPO. In 1997 before I had such satisfying results in the Festina team, Rijkaert explained to me that if I wanted to progress I had to follow his medical protocol based on taking this doping product, amongst others ... From then I knew that I would have EPO and that I would find myself in the team in the big races ... Before each race, Rijkaert gave me a few injections depending on the objective being sought after ... To my knowledge, all the team in the Tour this year have followed this protocol. I am speaking of course about the nine riders excluded this year.

Laurent Jalabert has responded Tuesday morning after hearing of the statement reportedly made by Zülle that the EPO use goes back to ONCE. He said: "Its his word against ours. The judicial process will demonstrate where the truth lies. I an only add that Zülle was always treated well at ONCE. It is strange to me that these reports of official interrogations have found their way into the hands of the press. I have the feeling that this is becoming a journalistic cause. I do not know if the choice to let out the news just as the Vuelta gets underway is from chance or instead reflects some purpose. But ONCE and cycling are damaged by it."

Manolo Saiz, manager of the ONCE team said: "We are convinced that Alex has not said these things about us. After what it is happened in the Tour, the French press must not be trusted."

The Neil Stephens Controversy

Australian cycling is once again caught up in selection scandals this time concerning the decision by officials to select Neil Stephens to ride for the Australian road team in the Commonwealth Games starting at the end of this week. Stephens arrived in KL today and was subjected to intense questioning at the airport. He said that he did not take any illegal drugs and wished the press would leave him alone. He said that the only reason he has continued riding is because the Australian officials selected him to represent his country.

Meanwhile, his selection has been attacked by the Malaysian Sports Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and Australian Olympic official Phil Coles.

The Malaysian minister has said openly that Stephens should be banned. Coles also has said it is a scandal that Stephens is riding for the National team. Mr Muhyiddin told national Australian radio (the ABC) that: "I personally feel it's not right. When a person or athlete has been identified as positive ... there's normal rules put on guys like that to say you are banned, you cannot participate in any event after a certain number of years, for example."

It is clear that the Minister has not understood the subtleties of the Festina matter. Neil Stephens has never tested positive for any drug abuse in his long career. That point is clear and so the Minister's statements reflect a false premise.

However, reading the confessions of his teammates quoted above it is clear that Festina was infested with systematic doping. Neil Stephens says he did nothing wrong and told ABC radio on Tuesday night that he had nothing to worry about when the authorites make their final decisions on October 1.

However, the comments by Phil Coles who is the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) board member and the AOC's director of international relations, are not based on false premises. He has said that the decision to select Stephens will create problems for Australian sport. He told the press: "It was rather strange to me that cycling said he was okay to compete. I just don't know under what authority they were able to do that. At the time it was announced I thought it was rather odd. I don't know the real reason why they could do that but it's up to them I guess."

On the Malaysian opposition to Stephens' selection, Coles said: "It is certainly one (issue) that shows a lot of concern, the Malaysian government is involved and I think cycling has got a problem on their hands. The perception around the world is that we (Australia) do a lot of talking but when our athletes get caught it's an accident The unfortunate thing about EPO is it's undetectable at the moment. We are certainly hoping we are getting closer to finding a solution and the sooner we do, the better."

He also said that if he was a rider in the road race and Stephens win's a medal he would "have some questions".

Australian Commonwealth Games problems

While CA (Cycling Australia) is boasting about how we will clean sweep the cycling medals the team and the sport in Australia is in crisis. The performance of the track team which receives large government subsidies at the recent Worlds was pathetic given the resources it has at its disposal. Coach Charlie Walsh was reported on the radio today as saying there has to be a major shakeup in the track team management. Many people I know and spoke to today had their version of Walsh's call. Sack him! But it is clear that Charlie Walsh was indicating that he should have more control in the organisation of the team. A few years ago he unsuccessfully tried to become the overall cycling coach in Australia subsuming the road program as well as the track program.

Well the road program is all but defunct due to the decisions of CA to sack Heiko Salzwedel. And the track team is riddled with crisis and underperformance. we will return to these problems in the following news item. It gets worse.

The latest involves a veteran of such struggles, Kathy Watt. She has requested she lives outside the normal athletes village in Kuala Lumpur. She moved out immediately upon arriving. Watt did the same in Atlanta when she said that she didn't want to be close to Australian coach Charlie Walsh. The officials have said that the only way they will allow her to live outside is if the village milieu was considered negative for their sporting chances. The CA official has said that the "village is an excellent village, I would say the best that I have been accommodated in."

This is just another example of the gap between the riders and the cycling officials in Australia. The allegations against the team management made in August leading up to the Worlds have not been adequately dealt with. They included allegations that the riders were being given illegal performance-enhancing substance.

This led to Lucy Tyler-Sharman, her husband Graham Sharman and Darryn Hill leaving the official training camp because they said they had major differences with Walsh. Tyler-Sharman lodged a formal complaint to the Australian Sports Commission which was dismissed.

Meanwhile, we recall the criticism made by Stephen Pate in March when he was excluded from the track team for KL.

Apart from Tyler-Sharman the best performed Australian rider was one who has been rejected by the cycling officials in Australia - Matthew Gilmore who won the Madison. He turned Belgian to overcome what he claims is prejudice in selection policies in Australian cycling.

One or a few of these controversies might be dismissed as being normal in the world of competitive endeavour. But Australian cycling has been deep in them and more for years now. Such a pattern of discontent and apparent anomalies is symptomatic of a systemic failure.