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News for October 25, 2000
Festina: Day 2
A bleak future for Virenque
In the past two days, former Festina rider, Richard Virenque has seen his past and future in cycling come under heavy fire. His facade of innocence that he has maintained despite significant evidence against him for the past two years since the "Festina affair" broke, has been demolished in a little over 24 hours by judge Daniel Delegove. Mr Delegove achieved what Judge Patrick Keil (and many others) couldn't: a confession from Virenque that he had doped.
The re-opened Festina trial was not meant to be a case against Richard Virenque - he was merely one of 10 people on trial for inciting others to dope. The charge against Virenque was "complicity in facilitating and inciting the use of doping." He was the only cyclist called because he was considered the "moral leader" of the Festina team, and that became all too clear in Lille today.
After finally admitting to Mr Delegove that he had indeed taken doping products, despite evading the question on day 1, Virenque faces a number of sanctions. For being found guilty of the offence that he was charged with, he faces up to two years imprisonment and a 100,000 franc ($US 18,000) fine.
However, the Moroccan (Casablanca) born Frenchman now lives in Switzerland (Veyrier), and either the Swiss or the French Federations are looking at suspending him for 6 to 12 months for confessing to doping. This would begin on February 1, 2001 in accordance with new UCI rules, and would write off much of next season. That is if there is one for Virenque: after his now defunct Polti team carried him for the past two years, no other teams have been eager to sign him for next year. Talks with Alexia fell through after they couldn't find a sponsor, and the sense was that most were waiting to see what came of the trial.
Former Swiss Festina riders, Alex Zülle, Laurent Dufaux and Armin Meier, as well as Frenchmen Laurent Brochard, and Didier Rous were all suspended for seven months after admitting to using banned substances at the time. Pascal Hervé who was one of the riders who did not confess, offered to serve a "voluntary suspension" at the end of 1998 until his teammates were allowed to race again.
"After the confession he made, we now have to follow the rules and to open an investigation against Virenque," said UCI chairman Hein Verbruggen.
Head UCI media spokesman, Enrico Carpani said that "an admittance of drug taking is the same as a positive control. Once we receive the documents they will be passed to the Swiss federation who will have to open disciplinary proceedings. We will then supervise the Swiss in deciding the correct suspension."
From hero to drug cheat
"It's the cover-up that gets you."
So said former US president, Richard 'Tricky Dicky' Nixon. After resigning from office he maintained that the voting public will forgive you for anything except a cover-up. Will this be the case with Richard Virenque?
In 1991, a promising 22 year old Virenque stepped out of the amateur ranks and into the professional RMO squad directed by Bruno Roussel, beginning an eight year relationship with the French directeur sportif. Over that period, Virenque grew in ability and captured the hearts of a large proportion of French fans, who were looking for another Tour de France winner after Hinault's departure in 1986.
Virenque wore the yellow jersey in Pau in 1992, and from then on his popularity soared. He played up to the public and reaped the benefits, although he was not held in high regard by the conservatives in the peloton. His generosity in donating his Tour de France winnings to the refugees in Rwanda in 1994 will be remembered, as will his mercenary abilities after he sold the exclusive rights to his marriage to Paris-Match.
Virenque's popularity in France has always belied his ability but in cycling, a high profile public image can be a lot of value to a sponsor. Despite having only 18 UCI wins in his 10 year career, he still asked for (and got) 6 million francs ($US 800,000) per year due to his celebrity status.
Virenque managed to place second in the Tour de France in 1997, finishing over nine minutes behind German Jan Ullrich. One year later in July 1998, the "Festina affair" demolished any further hope he had of winning the Tour, after the confessions of his colleagues all but damned him.
He almost quit cycling at the end of 1998 (announced by his brother Lionel on French TV), after there were no offers from teams to hire him by December. Eventually, Italian team Polti came along to rescue him, and he was able to start as normal in 1999. After impressing in Paris-Nice and some of the other early season races, he won a stage in the Giro d'Italia before placing third in the French Championships. A Tour de France start was initially denied to him by Jean-Marie Leblanc, who later was forced to acquiesce, allowing Virenque to compete and win his 5th mountains jersey in that race. A few criterium wins followed, and his 1999 season was over.
This year, he has had similar success, managing to win a stage in the Tour (Stage 16 from Courchevel to Morzine) but not gaining the mountains jersey. Since then, he has ridden well as a domestique for the French team in both the Olympic Games and the World Championships, finishing 19th in his final race, the Giro di Lombardia last Saturday. All of that has finished now, as the courts finally extracted their confession.
If this is indeed the end of major competition for Virenque, how will the public choose to remember him? Will the hundreds of thousands of fans that line the roads of the Tour de France take down their "Allez Virenque" signs? Or will they find some way to justify his lies just as he did yesterday.
"It's not doping unless you get caught," could be his epitaph.
Leblanc admits and criticises the UCI
Ex-World Champion and witness in today's proceedings, Luc Leblanc told the court in Lille today that the UCI had enforced a "dictatorship" on the riders. He said that they were more concerned with putting money into lawsuits rather than fighting against doping. He had earlier admitted to EPO use during his career.
"We (the riders) are the main victims of this dictatorship. They treat us like sheep or dogs to make money. The international authorities laugh in their splendid buildings in Switzerland. They are hypocrites. I have had enough. You are hypocrites," aiming this last part at the the UCI lawyer who was present.
"If they stopped talking about money, we would not be here in court," he added. "They would be better off developing honest values, the true values of life."
The 1994 World Champion said that he did take EPO in 1994 to compete in the Tour de France and the Giro d'Italia. "It is true, but I could have taken a lot more to win these races," said Leblanc, who added that he believed his best results during his 12 year career were when he was not taking the drug. He insisted that his Rainbow Jersey was not won on illegal substances though.
Two witnesses in today's Festina hearing have attacked 1999 and 2000 Tour de France winner, Lance Armstrong in relation to doping. Former Festina trainer, Antoine Vayer said under oath that the way in which he won this year was indirect proof that he had taken drugs.
"Lance Armstrong, averaging 54 km/h. I find that scandalous. That rhymes with nothing. It indirectly proves that he doped," said Vayer who is now an outspoken anti-doping critic.
Along the same lines, French rider Christophe Bassons (who has recently released a book entitled "Positif" co-written by Benoît Hopquin), recounted his experiences in the 1999 Tour. Bassons abandoned the Tour after he felt isolated in the peloton and his own team. He did not believe it was possible to win a stage without being on drugs, and publicly criticised other members of the peloton.
"Last year during a stage I attacked with five kilometres to go and everyone came back at me. At that point, Lance Armstrong came alongside me to say that I was doing a great deal of harm to cycling, that my manner of speaking was bad for cycling and it was better that I returned home," said Bassons.
Bassons has always maintained that during his years at Festina, he did not take drugs.
The history of the Festina affair
July 8: Willy Voet is challenged by French customs officers at Neuville-in-Ferrain with 234 ampoules of EPO, 80 of growth hormone, 160 capsules of testosterone and amphetamines, three days prior to the commencement of the Tour de France in Dublin.
July 10: A legal investigation for importation, smuggling and irregular circulation of prohibited goods is opened. Voet is in examined and placed in custody in Loos for two weeks.
July 17: Bruno Roussel and Eric Rijckaert, who were arrested two days earlier in Cholet, are placed in custody in Lille for 11 days, followed by a three month term. Roussel says that there was organised doping in Festina under strict medical control. The Festina team is then expelled from the Tour de France.
July 23: The nine riders of the team are placed in police custody in Lyon, where they undergo medical examinations. Richard Virenque and Pascal Herve are the only ones not to admit to doping.
July 24: The start of a stage in the Tour is delayed for two hours after a strike by the riders. On this day, there is the first confrontation in Lille between Roussel, Voet and Rijckaert. Rijckaert denies that there was systematic doping under his guidance.
July 29: The Albertville-Aix-les-Bains stage is cancelled after a protest by the riders following the questioning of other teams. Corticoids are discovered in the room of the Casino rider, Rodolfo Massi.
July 31: Spanish doctor Nicolas Terrados (ONCE) and Rodolfo Massi are put in custody for infringements of the antidoping law of 1989. The charges against Massi were later dropped.
September 13: Two pharmacists, Christine and Eric Paranier are suspected of having provided Willy Voet with drugs.
September 18: Francaise des Jeux soigneur, Jeff D' Hont, is put in custody and imprisoned for eleven days.
September 23: Voet accuses Virenque of doping in French daily, Le Parisien: "How dare Richard say to me he doesn't take drugs. He takes the same products as the other racers - no more, no less."
October 15: Confrontation in Lille between Virenque, Voet and Rijckaert. Virenque maintains that he hasn't doped. "I'm not guilty, but a victim." Voet threatens to sue Virenque.
November 28: The results of the analyses carried out on July 23 show that eight of the nine riders took EPO and four of them amphetamines. Virenque was not one of them.
December 17: Dr. Nicolas Terrados is charged with importation of drugs without authorization, the only charge that was kept.
January 26: Joel Chabiron, Festina communications director, is charged.
March 23: Jean-Marie Dalibot, Festina soigneur, is charged.
March 26: Virenque is charged with complicity in inciting the use and administration of doping products to others. He was brought in front of judge Patrick Keil three weeks later, and continued to deny it.
April 1: Jean-Marie Leblanc, director of the Tour de France, is held in Lille under police custody. Three days later, vice-president of the French Federation, Roger Legeay, and president Daniel Baal are charged for violation of the antidoping law of 1989. The cases against each were dropped in mid-June.
October 24: On the second day of the hearing, Virenque finally admits to having resorted to doping. He risks a minimum six month suspension from sport and his future as a cyclist is in doubt.
World's: Muenzer leads Canadian team
34 year old Lori-Ann Muenzer of Toronto is Canada's top medal hope this week at the 35-nation World Track Cycling Championships, October 25-29. The competition is being held at the indoor venue which will host the track events at the 2002 Commonwealth Games.
"I've never seen age as a barrier," said Muenzer, who works full-time at a law firm in Edmonton where she trains with her coach Steen Madsen. "I haven't finished what I want to accomplish yet in cycling. I'm going faster right now than ever. I've had my best season thanks to specific preparation for the first time in my career."
Muenzer's career was in jeopardy in 1994 when she broke her collarbone at a race in Cuba. The accident ruined her chances to vie for berths on the Commonwealth team for Victoria in 1994 and Atlanta in 1996. She also had severe tendinitis in her knees which painted a bleak picture of the future. "I never thought I'd be back on the bike again after that crash," she said.
Then last October she suffered another injury when she fell while mountain biking and didn't race for nearly eight months. She only trained for three months before the start of the 2000 spring season. At the Olympic trials in July, she defeated favoured Tanya Dubnicoff of Winnipeg in the 500 time trial to earn an Olympic spot in the event. She also posted two top-five performances earlier this season at a World Cup meet.
Muenzer, 13th in the time trial at the Olympics last month, hopes these world championships will be a springboard to a string of international successes leading up to the 2004 Olympics. She says she might keep on riding up until the 2008 Games especially if Toronto wins the bid.
"I would love nothing more than to win a couple of medals this week," said Muenzer, who competes in the match sprint and 500-metre time trial this week. "To go the fastest I've ever gone would be great. It might be hard to peak again after Sydney but my training has been very encouraging."
Mandy Poitras of Langley, B.C., is scheduled to race the time trial and the points race and Erin Carter of Ste. Anne, Man., is entered in the individual pursuit.
For the men, Canadian racers are Olympian Jim Fisher of Winnipeg, Doug Baron and Kyle Hudson of Calgary and Lars Madsen of Edmonton for the Olympic sprint team event. Baron is also in the match sprint and Fisher in the one kilometre time trial.
Dubnicoff, the 1993 world sprint champion and a medallist at the last two worlds, is among a handful of notable absentees due to the Olympics this year. Others include Olympic champions Leontien van Moorsel of the Netherlands, American Marty Nothstein, Felicia Ballanger of France and German Robert Bartko. Only four of the 12 Olympic champions from Sydney are scheduled to compete.
Olympic gold medallist and hopeful Tour de France winner Jan Ullrich has set a training plan for next season. Starting out with a two week holiday in California, he will begin training in December with other Telekom riders in South Africa. He will then travel to Mallorca for the beginning of the 2001 season, before returning to South Africa until some time in March. Then, Ullrich will return to Europe for the early season races. That's the plan at the moment...
Mapei and Van Petegem
According to Gabriele Sola, Mapei's spokesman, "During the negotiations, many strange things happened, so we didn't want Peter van Petegem any more."
Eric Vanderaerden, a future team manager of Mapei-Quick Step added that "I didn't hear it officially from manager Crespi, but Peter Van Petegem and his mates Van Bondt and Vansevenant are not coming. With 39 riders we have enough riders."
On Monday Stefano Garzelli and Franco Ballerini signed with Mapei. Garzelli, who won the Giro d'Italia this year said that he had been in negotiations with Mapei for "a long time" and that the change wasn't because of Marco Pantani's presence. "There were a number of factors, but this year I have not had any problem with Marco Pantani," said Garzelli. "I hope I have made a good decision, and to repeat my top stage race form next year."
Johan Capiot has become the team leader with the shortest career in cycling history.
"Team manager Jacques Hanegraaf gave no explanation for staying at home during Paris-Tours and Putte-Kapellen. Later I could read in the newspaper that my administration and financial management was not good enough. And then you should know that I was the man who was still waiting for his money. With excuses from Peter Post, Farm Frites arranged that last Monday," said an angry Capiot.
"The reason for the problems with Farm Frites? Jacques Hanegraaf. What he did was unbelievable. The riders and the rest of the team were very correct this season. Van Petegem, Van Bondt, Ivanov, Knaven, Klier, name a name: everybody wanted to leave, and everybody was OK with that idea. I will testify this in court. Hanegraaf is no human being," he added.
Most of the Farm Frites-riders found a new boss for next year. Capiot is still looking. "Maybe I have to live with the knowledge to have a future without cycling. But I never, never want to have a year like this one."
Marlon Perez signs
Colombian cyclist, Marlon Alirio Perez Arango has negotiated a two year contract with the Linda McCartney team. He will start his program in Spain in January next year.
Australian readers might remember him as the winner of this year's Hornsby to Swansea.
Farm Frites-Hartol adds
21 year old Dutchwoman Sonja van Kuik (Ondernemers van Nature), has been contracted for 2001 by the "Black Train", Farm Frites-Hartol. Van Kuik has been given a one year deal, with the option of signing for a second year. Recently, FFH re-signed Swedish champion and World's bronze medallist, Madeleine Lindberg for two more years.
The team directed by Michael Zijlaard has been extremely successful this year, winning 77 races, over half of them gained by Leontien Zijlaard-Van Moorsel. There were openings for four riders, after Debby Mansveld is leaving to another team, and the contracts of Swede Susanne Ljungskog, and Danes Rikke Sandhoj Olsen and Jeanet Harder will not be renewed.