Third Edition News for May 13, 1999

France update

Polti fines Virenque

Richard Virenque has told the French TV station TF1 that he didn't confess to taking any banned substances to police when interviewed on Tuesday in Paris. He spent the whole day with police. He told TF1 that: "I have told them the facts. Sainz advised me on and sold me vitamins" The latest doping allegations will not stop him starting in the Giro on Saturday. His lawyer, Gilbert Collard said that he would be there. Meanwhile, his team Polti, have fined Virenque around $US16,000 for using vitamins which he bought from Sainz. The team warned him to work within its medical code. Polti released a statement late yesterday. It said: "We have given a severe warning to the rider Richard Virenque so that in future he avails himself exclusively of the services of the team doctors. Richard Virenque is being fined 100,000 French Francs for not respecting team rules. The money will be given to charity."

In his TV interview Virenque said that: Bernard Sainz advised me which products to take, vitamins to get at a pharmacy without a prescription. He gave me drops to take at certain moments, vitamin drops. Afterwards I had numerous blood tests and there was no problem."

While the Polti statement said they had continued confidence in Virenque, the Frenchman said he would have to reflect on this situation. He said: "Afterwards I'll have to reflect. I'm going to have a long discussion with my wife but we'll see later. Today I feel empty."

Virenque - lawyer denies it:

Mr. Collard, who is Richard Virenque's lawyer had denied that his client admitted to using drugs. He told a press conference on Tuesday evening that his rider made no such admissions despite earlier reports from "police sources" that Virenque had caved in under the pressure of damaging tape recordings of conversations between himself and Dr. Mabuse (Bernard Sainz) about the administration of certain banned substances.

"He did not admit to having ever been doped."

Virenque left the police buildings early on Tuesday evening after having spent several hours in front of the Paris drugs squad investigators. He did not have to answer questions in front of the judge, Michele Colin, who is the presiding judge for this end of the investigation.

In the afternoon, police sources had indicated that Virenque had admitted during his period in police custody that he had "used products provided by Mr. Sainz." Sainz, himself, is still in police custody along with the lawyer Bertrand Lavelot. Collard said by way of contradiction that Virenque "attended and was heard in the capacity as a witness. The relations with Mr Lavelot are indisputable. He was one of his lawyers who helped him with his sporting contracts. He was also the lawyer at Festina and when he was under some pressure at Festina he consulted him."

Meanwhile, there are questions about the Giro which starts this Saturday in Italy. In the last 48 hours, Virenque has hardly lived the life of a rider who is receiving around 450,000 FF per month from his employer, Franco Polti, and who Polti is counting on when the Giro gets underway in Sicily. On Monday, Virenque was in Lille appearing before Patrick Keil who is investigating the Festina scandal. On Tuesday, he spent several hours being questioned in Paris.

Also in Paris, Marie-George Dresser, the French Minister for Youth and Sports, came out strongly to affirm the Government's anti-doping stance. She said that the: "The success of the investigations in France has implications for our European neighbors." She said she will be proposing at a conference of European Union Sport's Ministers in Germany on June 1-2, that they agree to establish a European anti-doping squad comprising police, lawyers and customs officials.

Mr Collard also attempted to clarify the earlier statements about the tapped telephone conversations between Virenque and Sainz. He said: "The police wanted him to explain some of the discussions that occured and were taped. On some of the conversations Virenque discussed having some consultations with Sainz that should come before racing." If the conversations were true then they would point to a complete reversal of Virenque's position. Collard didn't elaborate. Virenque does not face any penal sanction because the French law is aimed at pushers rather than the end-user.

ONCE and Banesto may boycott the Tour:

The two leading Spanish teams have said they are considering not riding in this year's Tour de France. They both walked out of last year's Tour claiming rider discrimination by French police and judicial authorities. They have said in the face of the latest raids and police action in Paris that they will not race if there are not guarantees from the police that they will not act in a similar way to last year when they raided hotels and took team officials into custody.

Banesto's manager Jose Miguel Echavarri said that: "We won't go to the Tour just to retire later. We're looking to run the Giro d'Italia, Tour de France and Tour of Spain but maybe we'll have to miss out the Tour for a year."

ONCE manager Manuel Saiz, said: "We'll have to discuss whether we're going to take part in the Tour or not. We're going to wait. It's still too early to know how far the detentions and court procedures are going to go. It's clear that it can't carry on like this. The stories coming out of France are very worrying."

The Tour will go ahead:

Tour de France organiser Jean-Marie Leblanc has said that even if the race is boycotted by leading teams it will stil continue. He told the press in Paris: "Even if we were to start with 14 or 16 teams instead of 20, the Tour will take place. Even if champions are missing, we'll go ahead. Our duty is to show that the Tour is run with riders who will have given assurances of their morality and openness. Virenque will be the object of an examination like all the other riders on June 16. If he is in the column of those capable of troubling the Tour he won't race."

Tougher doping laws to come in France:

French sports minister Marie-George Buffet said that a tougher anti-doping law will be legislated for introduction in July in France. She told the French Parliament: "We have at last managed to worry those who make money with the physical and moral integrity of sportspeople, in other words the suppliers. I'm pleased that this fight has started at last after many years of inertia. This fight against trafficking is one of the priorities of the action undertaken by the government since nearly two years ago. So far, only sports people were hit by sporting sanctions. Today, it's the turn of the traffickers. I will propose the rapid implementation of a European set-up of police, judicial and customs cooperation specific to the fight against doping."