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News for December 30, 2000

Virenque given 9 month ban

The Swiss Cycling Federation (SRB) have handed French cyclist Richard Virenque a nine month suspension and a 4000 Swiss franc ($US 2500) fine for confessing to drug use during the 'Festina trial'. The decision that was announced in Bern today means that Virenque will miss the entire 2001 season, placing his future career in doubt. The ban will commence on February 1, in accordance with UCI rules.

One week ago, Virenque was cleared by the court in Lille of helping to organise doping within the Festina team. Despite his confession, this was expected within the context of the trial. However, he faced a likely six to twelve month ban from the UCI/Swiss Federation, as a confession is treated the same as a positive test.

The ban could mean the end of the 31 year old's career, as he has no team at the moment after Polti folded at the end of this year. His lawyer, Vincent Speder said that he was "completely destroyed by the decision. At 31 a sentence like this probably means the end of his career. He will not retire immediately as he has a lot of questions to pose over the severity of the suspension."

"It should be noted that those who speak up are sanctioned and all the others, because the Festina lawsuit made it possible to show that everyone was doped, are keeping silent. And this forces them to continue to keep silent. Thus doping goes on," said Mr Speder.

"Today's sanction made me think of past times where the rider was the only person in charge. It resembles a logic of elimination. Richard will not be able to race in 2001 and will therefore not be able to find a team. However, without any competitions in 2001 it will be difficult to find a team in 2002. One must wonder whether this sanction will take Richard Virenque out of professional cycling," he added.

Virenque's manager Eric Boyer also said that he will not be giving up the sport, and would appeal the decision in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (TAS) in Lausanne. Virenque has 21 days in which to lodge his appeal.

However on French radio station, France Info, Virenque was emotional: "I don't understand it. This is the end of my career. I don't have a team, I have no chance anymore and I don't have the power to come back. This will destroy my career."

The Swiss panel was chaired by Bernhard Welten, and included a lawyer (Benvenuto Savoldelli), a doctor (Rolf Walser), and a trainer (Jean-Marc Morand).

Baal: suspension is 'logical'

Although several his Festina colleagues only received six to seven month bans after they confessed in 1998, Richard Virenque was given a more severe penalty by the SRB. Retiring French Cycling Federation president, Daniel Baal commented that Virenque's nine month suspension was "logical" and "not unjust".

"It is not particularly severe and was exactly the median of the UCI penalty (6 - 12 months)," said Baal. "The commission no doubt wanted to take the late confession into account."

According to the Swiss Federation, the five member commission chaired by Bernhard Welten took this time period into account. In addition to his 4000 Swiss franc fine, Virenque will also have to pay 2000 francs in legal fees.

The FFC also have to decide what to do with Pascal Hervé, Virenque's teammate who also confessed to doping during the trial. In 1998-1999, Hervé served a voluntary suspension "in solidarity" with his teammates, but did not receive an official penalty. The FFC have not yet said whether they will sanction him now or not.

Beloki to ONCE?

In the latest instalment of one of the late season's longest running soap operas, Joseba Beloki and Festina have reached an agreement in which the Spaniard will pay between 60 and 70 million pesetas ($US 340-400,000) to be released from his contract for 2001. Beloki has been trying to negotiate a departure from Festina for some months, despite claiming he has excellent relationships with team manager Juan Fernandez and the other riders.

However, Beloki, who said earlier this month that he wanted to leave Festina for career reasons has yet to actually pay the money and cut himself loose from Festina. Until he does he can't formally sign with another team. He is believed to be very close to signing with ONCE and has also been linked to Banesto. The two are vying for his services in 2001, and ONCE currently looks favourite.

Beloki was originally offered a five-year, 600 million peseta deal with Festina but backed out of that saying he didn't want to sign with the Dutch intermediary company, Stichting Omnisport, that Festina created to deal with its team. He eventually signed a one year contract, changed his mind again and was told by the UCI he had to fulfil the one year deal.

Sevilla signs for three years

Oscar Sevilla (24) has renewed his contract with Kelme for three years. He is one of the biggest young talents in Spain and a lot of teams were interested in him this year. He rode a good Vuelta, which was won by his teammate Roberto Heras. However, he missed the World Championships after excessive amounts of caffeine were found in his urine after a drug test.

Joane Somarriba awarded

Joane Somarriba of Alfa Lum has been voted Bizkaia's sportsperson of the year by an overwhelming majority in recognition of her wins in the Tour and Giro this year. The award was presented by the vizcayan sporting press, and the competition included many Olympic and Paralympic athletes.

Winner of stage 10 in the Tour de France, Javier Oxtoa, won the prize for the athlete with the most potential. The team prize went to the Euskaltel-Euskadi team, who won 15 races in 2000 and finished at the top of the second division.

Mattan and Planckaert stay in Spain

Belgians Nico Mattan and Jo Planckaert are not allowed to start in the Belgian National Cyclocross Championships in Mol next month. This comes from their Cofidis team manager, Alain Bondue, who is organising a training camp in Spain at that time and will not allow them a break.

Farm Frites-Hartol signs three from RWC Ahoy

Farm Frites-Hartol have added three junior "guest riders" to their roster from Rotterdam club, RWC Ahoy. Vera Koedooder, Christa Pirard and Suzanne de Goede will ride in certain races in 2001 under team leader, Michael Zijlaard.

All three riders are between 16-17 years old, and have been quite successful in the junior ranks. Vera Koedooder is the Dutch national junior women's time trial champion, and has won 16 races. Suzanne de Goede is extremely versatile, winning races on the road, track and cyclocross. She is the Dutch junior women's champion in the sprint, 500m TT and pursuit.