Drug Scandal at Tour de France
PARIS (AP) _ In a widening scandal that is overshadowing the Tour de France, a doctor for the banned Festina team contends that his riders were ordered by their manager to pay for performance-enhancing drugs.
The doctor’s accusations Tuesday came at the same time a Dutch team was placed under suspicion for cycling’s showcase event. It was reported that the same drug used by the Festina team was found in the car of TVM officials in March.
The Tour, which already has ejected Festina, threatens to do the same to the Dutch team if it is shown those riders took illegal drugs.
The lawyer for Festina doctor Eric Ryckaert told the Le Parisien newspaper that riders were ``obliged to put part of their win bonuses into a `black box’ fund to buy banned substances,″
``These products, like regular drugs, were held at Festina’s headquarters in Lyon,″ lawyer Arsene Ryckaert said.
He added that team manager Bruno Roussel was in charge of the system and riders decided which substances they wanted to take.
Ryckaert said his client, no relation, did not prescribe or administer banned substances and was called in only if riders had problems after taking drugs.
There was no comment from Roussel’s lawyer. Roussel and the team doctor are in jail, along with the team trainer.
The Festina team, which features Richard Virenque, one of France’s most popular cyclists, was banned from the Tour de France on Friday.
The scandal has rocked the event since it began July 11 in Ireland, days after customs officials arrested team trainer Willy Voet.
The scandal intensified when it was reported that French customs officials found the drug EPO in the car of officials of the Dutch TVM team in March. EPO is the same substance allegedly used by Festina.
The International Union of Cycling, the sport’s governing body, has asked the Dutch cycling federation to investigate and tour organizers have threatened to expel the TVM team if it is proved riders took the hard-to-detect drug.
``If the inquiry finds that rules have been broken, the case would go to the courts. But first we need proof that someone has done something wrong,″ said Anne-Laure Masson, the union’s anti-drug coordinator, told The Associated Press.
But the cycling union concedes it is almost powerless to stop the use of EPO. Erythropoietin, an artificial hormone stimulant, stimulates production of red blood cells, increasing the blood’s capacity to carry oxygen.
``EPO is completely undetectable unless we test on the same day that the rider has taken the drug,″ she said. ``Even then, it is undetectable when taken with a growth hormone.
``Scientists have been working on this for years but we still have no solution. This is a very big problem for the sport.″
TVM, a Dutch transport insurance company, told the Dutch news agency ANP that it is suspicious about the latest accusations.
``The case has been closed for four months. Festina gets caught and this suddenly surfaces again. I find it strange,″ Ad Bos, director of TVM, told ANP.
Hein Verbruggen, president of the cycling union, acknowledges his sport is struggling to discover the extent of drug use.
``I don’t know how many. Is it 5 percent, 10 percent? Is it 20 percent of 40 percent?″ he said. ``I don’t know, nobody knows.″
Other teams declined to comment on the Festina case, but maintain drug use is not widespread.
``We are absolutely sure that our team is clean,″ said Stephan Altoff, a spokesman for Deutsche Telekom, which sponsored last year’s winner. ``But we want to make sure that testing is more effective and are considering making a financial contribution to that effort.″