Ireland's former Tour de France and World cycling champion Stephen Roche said on Tuesday he hoped tthe Irish Government would decide soon about staging the initial stages of the Tour de France in 1998. Cycling promoters Pat McQuaide and Alan Rushton, along with members of the Dublin International Sports Council (DISC), are to meet with Minister for Tourism Enda Kenny on Wednesday.
The proposal envisaged that the Tour would start in Dublin and be followed by three days of stages in mountainous Co Wicklow, south of Dublin, and in the Irish Midlands, before riders embarked by sea for Roscoff.
The idea is believed to have originated when Roche met Kenny with Irish newspaper magnate Tony O'Reilly. McQuaide and Alan Rushton, along with DISC, agreed to take care of the practical arrangements on the understanding that the Irish government would provide the necessary financial backing of 2million pounds (3.5 million US dollars).
Roche told Irish radio that he was concerned that the contract had been with the government for two months without having been signed.
"The Tour de France is finding it difficult to understand that Enda Kenny spoke to the organisers of the Tour de France himself -- I was there at the table when they spoke about it -- and now the Tour de France is wondering how come the contract hasn't come back signed."
Roche added that the situation was urgent as there had been a rival bid. Stephen Roche was the first rider from Britain or Ireland to win the Tour de France in 1987, the year in which he was also the world professional road race champion.
Gaumont told French television he had been given the steroids by team doctor Patrick Nedelec, who had been suspended by GAN team manager Roger Legeay pending further investigation.
"Nedelec told me to follow a special program. He said there were no risks and I would not test positive," Gaumont said.
Nedelec has in the past been in charge of doping controls on the Tour de France. Under International Cycling Union rules, the two riders face six-month bans but the French federation can increase the suspensions to three years.
Gaumont's positive tests were after his wins in the Tour de la Cote Picarde (April 23) and the Quatre Jours de Dunkerque (May 7-12) and at the Tour de l'Oise (May 17-19). Desbiens was tested positive after winning the Vendee International Classic (April 28). It is reported that four other riders, who have not yet been named, tested positive at the Quatre Jours de Dunkerque. There is no indication yet that these are also GAN riders -- though see Gaumont's oblique comment about other riders below.
Both Gaumont and Desbiens state they they were each prescribed two drugs last year (one received a prescripition in October, the other in November) by Dr Nedelec. The drugs were testosterone (which did not show up in the tests) and Dynablon (a proprietary drug that contains nandrolone).
Speaking to L'Equipe, Gaumont said: "Nedelec asked me to follow a specific programme. He wanted me to build up upper-body muscle. He said that under no circumstances would I test positive and that there was no risk.Several months later the product hadn't disappeared from my urine. I tested positive in the Cote Picarde, the Quatre Jours de Dunkerque and the Tour de l'Oise. Several of us are in the same situation. I put my confidence in Nedelec. How could I do otherwise. I'm a racing cyclist and I listen to my doctor when I have to look after myself."
Gaumont continued: "It's an abuse of confidence. I've been manipulated by Nedelec. I'm not a cheat. I could win races without that. I know that people will think otherwise. It's this doctor who's dropped me in the shit -- me, my family, my team. He's committed a grave error. I have all the proofs -- in particular the prescription give me by Nedelec. I've nothing to reproach myself with and I hope the disciplinary commission is going to understand, and that I'll be able to ride out the season."
Dr Nedelec told French news agency AFP: "I've committed an error with respect to the anti-doping regulations, but not with regards to therapeutic considerations. I responded to an effective and pressing demand from the rider." Nedelec says he is putting the matter in the hands of a lawyer: "The situation is not as clear-cut as it has been presented up to now and I want to prove that's so."
Nedelec had treated both riders at Castorama and, ironically, was for several years in charge of the anti-doping control on the Tour de France. Roger Legeay latched onto this. "Why did I take on Nedelec?" he asked. "Because I thought I saw there [in Nedelec's past position] a guarantee that I could find there peace of mind in the area of medical supervision of the team." Legeay also produced a letter he had presented to Dr Nedelec on March 20, to which was appended the list of banned substances. The letter reads: "You know how mcuh I am concerned about the health of the riders and the image of the GAN team. I count on you to assure medical provision that is in line with the ethics of the sport."
Two major imponderables -- there must be many more -- arise. Why should a doctor of Nedelec's experience give such blatantly illicit substances to riders under his supervision (and he's admitted to this) when, as those in the know point out, he did not even have any bonus riding on the team's performance? And how could riders be so naive as not to question a prescription of this sort?
Note: UCI regulations call for a suspension of six months to a year for a first offence of this sort but there is discretion to reduce this or even increase it to three years.