LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) _ French cyclist Richard Virenque has appealed his nine-month ban for taking performance-enhancing drugs during the 1998 Tour de France.

Matthieu Reeb, director general of the Lausanne-based Court of Arbitration for Sport, said Friday that the issue should be decided by March or April.

The Swiss cycling federation announced in December that it would suspend Virenque _who lives in Switzerland _ starting in February. That would sideline him for the season.

At the time, 31-year-old Virenque said the ban probably would end his career. Without racing this season, he said it would be difficult to attract a sponsor for 2002.

Virenque was cleared by a French court of charges that he helped supply drugs to his Festina teammates in the Tour de France. But he caused a sensation with his testimony about systematic drug use in Festina and the sport in general.