News for April 1, 1999

Mapei-Quick Step Scandal - Breaking News

The local police authorities in Kortrijk (Belgium) have arrested the Mapei-Quick Step manager Patrick Lefèvre and six riders for questioning after security police opened a DHL package at Brussels airport. This package contained a video cassette box with 5 ampules of an unknown substance which came from Italy and was to be sent to the Mapei hotel in De Panne.

At first, the organisers of the "Driedaagse van De Panne" decided to neutralise Stage 3 but it has been now been stopped. All the other riders decided not to take the start in this stage as an act of solidarity. This afternoon's time trial is expected to take place.

In Belgium, everyone was thinking it was an April Fool's Day joke being played by VRT-TV Teletext, but now, hours later, it was also in the news in the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and France.

The Mapei riders have been asked to undergo bloodtests. The Rabobank team manager Theo van Rooy reports that Stage 3 started as normal, but after 3 kilometers police cars stopped the race. The race leader Tom Steels will now be the likely winner.

Belgian radio is reporting that this morning at 8:57 (just 3 minutes before the start of part 1 of Stage 3) the police arrived and stopped the race. They came to pick up Patrick Lefevre and his complete Mapei team. They went to the parket (counsel for the prosecution) in Kortrijk. The other teammanagers decided not to start so the first part was neutralized.

Lefevre said: "It's a blown up-case".

The radio reporter said: "The ampules were found on Tuesday and they investigated them at the moment. It is strange to see the police come into action just before the last day of the Driedaagse van de Panne. It seems that they are doing the same thing as the French police in the Tour de France last year."

RVV now threatened

Kortrijk state prosecutor Louis Deneckere said: "We are now involved in investigating the obvious things. Is Mapei involved with the package? What is in the ampules?" He also indicated that the incident now will place the Ronde van Vlaanderen in jeopardy. There is a sense of crisis in Belgium this morning.

It is now being reported that Patrick Lefevere was questioned by prosecutors in Kortrijk and the team accompanied him in a show of support. Johan Museeuw and Michele Bartoli went to the police station in Kortrijk.

Drug Raid the result of leaked information

It is now being reported that the The ampules were sent from the hotel (of the Mapei-team) in Belgium to Italy. They were disovered at Zaventem Airport in Brussels.

The news is now that police action came just after the start because the news of the raid and the discovery was leaked in the Belgian newspaper, Het Laatste Nieuws. If the newspaper had not have leaked the discovery the police were going to raid the race at the finish.

Amphetamines found

The five ampules have been examined now and they were full of amphetamines. The Kortrijk prosecuter Louis Deneckere is now holding a press conference to explain what will happen next. The drugs were found in a package being send via the international couriers DHL and were destined for Mapei team HQ in Italy having been dispatched from their team hotel in De Panne.

Lefevere denies any knowledge

Mapei team boss Patrick Lefevre (interviewed in front of his hotel) said: "I don't anything about this affair. For years we are working to be clean and now a newspaper brings this. If this story is true, it will be the end of our Mapei team."

He was referring to a newspaper article this morning in Belgium which alleges that the drugs were being used by the team during De Panne and the excess were being mailed back to Italy in an empty video cassette case.

Lefévre is now telling Belgian TV (13.15 Belgian time) that this is some sort of strange joke.

The Prosecutor is saying that: "We have respect for the riders and it isn't our fault that we had to make arrests during the race. We had planned our action after the final finish this afternoon but the leaks forced our action." Despite earlier reports he is not saying exactly to whom the packages were addressed to in Italy.

The Mapei riders were told by more than 20 police officers who raided the hotel this morning that they had to come to the station. They were told to stop racing and they rode to the hotel. The police said: "Will you follow us?"

Ballerini, Vandenbroucke and Tchmil were the instigators of the solidarity move in the peloton and were instrumental in getting the other riders to stop.

Peter Van Petegem has just told Belgian TV: "It's a shame, why an action during a race? why not tomorrow?"

Frank Vandenbroucke: "Why not tonight?"

Lefevere and riders detained for 24 hours

The prosecuter has just said that he wants to have the Mapei team avaiable to him for at least 24 hours. He is refusing to say whether the team can start in the Ronde Van Vlaanderen.

A rumour being relayed by Walter Godefroot is that the package was sent by an assistant of the Mapei team rather than a rider or Lefevere.

Leblanc may resign

The Director of the Tour de France Jean-Marie Leblanc is now directly involved in the investigations being conducted by the magistrate Patrick Keil in Lille. Both Leblanc and the President of the French Cycling Federation have been directed to appear in Lille today. Keil has indicated he wants to examine them directly and local judicial authorities have suggested that they both will be put under formal investigation. The issue appears to be whether the two officials turned a blind eye to the doping that everyone else in cycling seemed to know about. Leblanc has denied he has intimate knowledge of the cyclist's habits - saying to the international press that he hasn't been near a "rider's room for ages" also said he would quit if implicated. In an interview with the French sport's newspaper l'Equipe he said "I do not wish to be involved with a second Tour polluted by doping stories. I never closed my eyes on doping and I can produce a heavy file of records, exchanges with the French Sports ministry asking for a tougher stance on doping."

Late News: - Jean-Marie Leblanc has now been detained by the judge after appearing this morning in Lille. Both Leblanc and Baal were questioned as to their knowledge of doping in the sport. Baal also said he would be placed under formal investigation. In France this is one step before formal charges are laid but involves a trial.

Later News: - Daniel Baal has now been officially charged with "complicity in helping others to obtain and use illegal performance-enhancing substances." He is the third person charged in the last 7 days. Already Roger Legeay and Richard Virenque have been charged. Jean-Marie Leblanc is currently being detained for questioning.

Virenque also placed under formal investigation

Richard Virenque, the former top rider with Festina, and who appeared to escape the penalties arising from last years Festina scandal because he consistently denied any involvement, has now been summonsed by the investigating Judge in Lille Patrick Keil. The summons which was sent to Switzerland by letter from Patrick Keil indicates that Virenque is suspected of "complicity in helping others to obtain and use illegal performance-enhancing substances".

He is now the 12th person put under investigation by Keil. Leading manager Roger Legeay was also placed under formal investigation on Monday by the judge. And today Jean-Marie Leblanc and Daniel Baal the president of the French Cycling Federation have to give evidence in Lille under summons.

The involvement of Virenque appears to have been stimulated by actions of other riders who have come forth with new evidence. The judge had already conducted exhaustive investigations of the Festina riders with most of them admitting their guilt in the EPO scandal. But since Virenque was signed by the Italian team Polti and given a chance to race again it appears that several other riders and officials have volunteered evidence against him. There seems to be a sense of moral outrage at his continued presence in the peloton.

Race in Brazil

Rodrigo Gini, our South American correspondent writes that the most important race in Belo Horizonte, the "Prova Ciclistica da Inconfidencia" will take place on April 17-18. On the Saturday, there is a criterium on a 1 km circuit on downtown Belo Horizonte and, on Sunday, the traditional road race between Ouro Preto and Belo Horizonte over 100 kms. Among the teams already confirmed are Caloi, with local and ex-professional Cassio Freitas and all the guys that are racing in Uruguay (Marcio May, Daniel Rogelin, Hernandes Quadri). Pirelli (Murilo Fischer, Newton Jose, Andre Grizante), Specialized will also be racing. The organisers (the State Cycling Federation) are trying to bring the guys from the Maia-CIN team (including Portugal's champion Carlos Carneiro), who will race the Volta do Descobrimento (in Rio de Janeiro) the week before. They are also trying to attract riders from Argentina and Uruguay. Rodrigo asks if anyone is interested in racing this weekend (food and accommodation is guaranteed) then please ring - 55-31-344-9971/9977-4179/201-6662.