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89th Tour de France - Grand Tour
France, July 6-28, 2002
Tour de France news for June 5, 2002
Edited by Jeff Jones
US Postal dossier unlikely to be closed before Tour de France
The French investigation into the 'US Postal affair' will more than likely be kept open until the Tour de France has finished, despite a lack of evidence in the case so far. Parisian prosecutor François Franchy, in charge of the section 'against non-financial organised crime' said in an interview with French newspaper Le Monde that "It will be finished soon...A closure should not be expected before July...I will make sure that the dossier is closed before the fall."
The investigation started in November 2000, after France 3 TV aired footage of allegedly suspicious behaviour involving the disposal of garbage originating from a hotel that US Postal had stayed in during the 2000 Tour de France. The footage showed men loading several plastic garbage bags from the hotel into a German registered car, driving to a back road, and dumping it. An examination of the contents revealed that the bags contained swabs, compresses and pill packets, including a substance derived from calves blood called Actovegin.
Actovegin is used to treat people suffering from blood deficiencies, and was at first considered a potential performance enhancer due to its ability to improve oxygen carrying capacity. However, although it was banned by the UCI after the investigation started, its performance enhancing virtues, if any, remain unclear. It is also not illegal in France.
Shortly after the affair started, US Postal team management issued a statement confirming its use by members of the team, although the team claimed that no riders had used it. "Prior to the start of the 2000 Tour, Actovegin was brought into France by our team physician with the full authorization of the Agence Française de Securité Sanitaire des Produits de Santé, the French medical control agency. Actovegin was available to be used to treat severe skin abrasions due to crashes and to aid one of our staff members who has diabetes," read the statement.
The US Postal lawyer, Georges Kiejman confirmed to Le Monde that "Actovegin was on the list of medicines that US Postal had given to the French authorities prior to the Tour and these were accepted." However, "this was not the reason that it [the investigation] has lasted this long."
The team's blood and urine samples from the Tour were analysed in the spring of 2001 by the UCI, and nothing suspicious was found. In February 2002, the team was asked to submit their medical files to professor Gilbert Pépin, in charge of the judicial laboratory Toxlab. However, the team refused as there was no specific accusation against them. At that point, it became clear that the investigation would run out of steam.
Prosecutor Franchy said that "We have moved forward on a presumption of doping, but we have not succeeded in identifying a product. We are blocked. We do not have any means of coercion," adding that "In this dossier, Lance Armstrong was not at risk of being investigated."
With the dossier still open, the prosecutor could add to this action should something come up at the Tour de France.
Acqua & Sapone urges Italian boycott of Tour
The Acqua & Sapone-Cantina Tollo team has urged the Italian teams taking part in the Tour de France to boycott the race in 2003, as a form of protest against the team selection made by the organisers. Team manager Vincenzo Santoni issued a communiqué to this effect:
"The exclusion of Saeco from the Tour de Frances is shameful. It demonstrates that we, the teams, have no no power or value. There is a monopoly of power on the part of a few organisers who take all the profits for their companies alone.
At this point, we, the Italian trade teams, should work together and if necessary also boycott important events such as the Tour de France. Only in this manner will we succeed in having a political and economical impact. We cannot allow ourselves to carry on working without any power; our teams are real businesses which provide work on average to 50 employees, funded only from sponsorships.
We also have the right to have other sources of income as is the case in other sports (TV revenues from the major tours, World Cups and World Championships).
We invite the other teams to meet us with the aim of selecting a prominent person who would be able to represent us (e.g. Mr Mastella [an Italian member of parliament]).