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Festina affair

The Festina Affair refers to the events that surrounded several doping scandals, doping investigations and confessions by riders to doping that occurred during and after the 1998 Tour de France. The affair began when a large haul of doping products was found in a car of the Festina cycling team just before the start of the race. An investigation was followed by the opening of a separate case into the TVM team and the subsequent searching of many teams during the race. The investigation revealed systematic doping, and suspicion was raised that there may have been a widespread network of doping involving many teams of the Tour de France. Publicity on the case was constant and negative. Hotels were searched by police, and a spate of confessions were made by retired and current riders. Many team personnel were arrested or detained, and protests were made by riders in the race. Several teams withdrew from the race.



The Tour de France began that year in Dublin, Ireland, the first time to start in Ireland. The race began on July 11, later than usual due to the 1998 FIFA World Cup being held in France.[1] Ahead of the race the former Irish professionals Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and Martin Earley were being presented with awards, while the organisation of the race in Ireland led by Pat McQuaid, Alan Rushton and Mick Bennett, as well as the authorities of Dublin, prepared for the disruption to the city. The favourites such as Jan Ullrich, Bjarne Riis and Erik Zabel arrived via air in the days preceding the race.[2] The arrival of the Tour was seen as a great coup for Ireland according to the then Minister for Sport Jim McDaid. It represented a huge logistics operation from each of the teams: in total 3,500 personnel would have to be transported and 1,500 vehicles would be shipped to Ireland and back to France.[3]

Time line

1998 Tour de France

July 8, 1998: Willy Voet, Belgian soigneur of the Festina team and personal carer of Richard Virenque was stopped by customs officers at the Belgian-French border close to Neuville-en-Ferrain near Lille in Northern France. Officers discovered several hundred grams and capsules of anabolic steroids, Erythropoietin (EPO), syringes and other doping products. Voet was taken into police custody. Festina offices were searched in the evening in Lyon and other suspect products were seized.[4] One of the substances that was found that would later be discussed was perfluorocarbon which was said to be an artificial carrier of oxygen. The substance was very dangerous to take and is suspected to have caused the near fatal collapse of Swiss rider Mauro Gianetti during the 1997 Tour de Romandie.[5]

July 10, 1998: Bruno Roussel, directeur sportif of Festina, declared a day before the start of the Tour in Dublin that he had nothing to do with the drugs find. He claimed that Voet was not supposed to be with the team for the Tour.[6] Meanwhile a judicial inquiry into the importation and illegal circulation of contraband items began in France. It was announced that Voet would be imprisoned in Loos for two weeks.

July 11, 1998: French police state that the car contained 250 bottles of EPO (originating from three labs in Germany and Switzerland), plus 400 bottles and ampules of various products. Voet is alleged to have driven from Lyon, France via Switzerland to Germany and from there to Belgium. In the Festina headquarters the police allege that they found a document with systematic drug programmes for the riders of Festina.[7] As the race began in Dublin, it was announced that the Festina riders Richard Virenque, Alex Z lle and Laurent Dufaux would face questioning when they returned to France.

July 14, 1998: G rard Gremion, a doctor from Switzerland said in the French newspaper, France-Soir, that 99% of the peloton used doping. Roussel and Festina team doctor Eric Rijckaert continued to deny doping on the team.

July 15, 1998: Roussel and Rijkaert are taken into custody in Cholet. The Festina hotel was searched by 8 gendarmes.[8]

July 16, 1998: Roussel lost his licence as a manager of a cycling team from the UCI but the Festina team appeared to be able to continue in the race due to Miguel Moreno together with Michael Gros taking it over.[9] Virenque, Dufaux and Brochard called a press conference before the stage and assured that the team would not withdraw from the race.[10]

July 17, 1998: Roussel admitted to systematic doping on the team. In the late evening, Tour de France race directeur Jean-Marie Leblanc expelled the Festina team from the Tour; they did not start the seventh stage the following day (July 18).[11][12]

July 18, 1998: Virenque left the Tour in tears.[13]

July 19, 1998: French daily Aujourd hui reported that on March 4, 1998 police found 104 ampules of EPO in a vehicle of the TVM team. This occurred following a race (GP Valencia) during a routine customs check close to Reims in North-East France. Team mechanics were driving the vehicle at the time. The judicial authorities did not make the case a priority. Meanwhile the new Festina assistant manager Michael Gros alleged that Festina did what every team was doing.[14]

July 21, 1998: The lawyer of Rijkaert alleged that his client had told that there was a special doping fund with the Festina team. This fund was used to procure doping products and had about 60.000 euro (at the time described in francs).[15] A former TVM rider, Alain van den Bosche, admitted to taking EPO while on the team.

July 23, 1998: Nine riders and three officials from Festina are taken into police custody. In Pamiers, Cees Priem the manager of the TVM team and Andrei Michailov, the TVM team doctor, are taken into custody and detained overnight. Four other TVM officials including directeur sportif Hendrik Redant are also interrogated but are later released. Priem and Michailov were arrested after the French police raided the Hotel de la Rocade in Palmiers, the hotel that the team was staying in. Police found drug evidence in a suitcase and a rubbish bin in TVM s hotel room in Toulouse and Metz.[16]
Eric van de Sijpe, a Belgian judge, ordered a search of the offices of the Festina doctor (who lived in Belgium) whereby the police obtained computer files proving the riders were using EPO. Festina riders (Richard Virenque, Pascal Herv , Didier Rous, Alex Z lle, Armin Meier and Laurent Dufaux) are questioned in Lyon and held in police custody. Police announce that they will also question the Rabobank and Casino teams.[17] The nine Festina riders were escorted to a hospital and obligated to undergo extensive tests and sample giving such as blood, hair and urine samples.[18]
The television crew of France 2 found needles with the remains of banned substances in the hotel room of the Asics team (who were also riding the Tour). The syringes allegedly had the initials of the riders of the team.[17]

July 24, 1998: Priem and Michailov are transferred to Foix. The nine riders from Festina are let free. Five of them (Z lle, Dufaux, Moreau, Brochard en Meier) have admitted to doping. Virenque claims that he is clean. Herv also maintains he is innocent. An investigation into TVM begins. Stage 12 is interrupted for two hours by riders.[19]

Interim Festina manager Moreno is also released on bail while former manager Roussel, masseur Voet and doctor Rijckaert are held. The revelations of Meier provoked the riders strike in the stage. A second investigation is launched into the drugs find of the TVM team during the Tour.[20] Voet and Roussel explain how doping was organised on the team and that the other teams are involved in smuggling.[21] Alex Z lle also admits to doping but claims that he needed to do so to satisfy his sponsors. Z lle claims that he was deprived of his spectacles during the police interview. Dufaux admitted to doping in police custody because the evidence proving that he was doping was overpowering, he claimed.[22]

July 27, 1998:: The police say that the Festina affair and the TVM affair are not connected. Priem and Michailov are still held in custody. The President of the International Olympic Committee Juan Antonio Samaranch called for performance enhancing drugs to be legalised. His call was supported by two cycling teams, Banesto and Team ONCE. Cees Priem and Alexandrei Mikhailov are taken by car from Foix to Reims and are still detained. Neil Stephens, a Festina rider at the Tour, admits taking performance enhancing drugs but claims that he thought the EPO injections were vitamin C and E supplements.[23]

July 28, 1998: Two former riders of Festina, Gilles Bouvard and Emmanuel Magnien, confess to doping. Roussel is released on bail. TVM are met by the police in Albertville; six TVM riders including sprinter Jeroen Blijlevens, Bart Voskamp, Servais Knaven and Steven de Jongh are taken in the night to the hospital where they give blood, hair and urine samples. TVM Soigneur Jan Moors is arrested. Police also take three cases, a sports bag and a dustbin from the team. Afterwards the rest of the team are taken into custody and escorted to the hospital for extensive drug tests.[24]

July 29, 1998: The Tour peloton conducted an industrial dispute by cycling very slowly. The champion of France, Laurent Jalabert pulled out first followed by the rest of his team, Team ONCE. The Spanish team Banesto and the Italian team Risco Scotti left at the feeding zone. The peloton stopped a second time and threatened a mass withdrawal against the treatment of the Tour riders as criminals. At a slow tempo, the peloton walked to Aix-les-Bains and the stage was cancelled. In the afternoon there was a raid on Team ONCE, Team Polti, La Fran aise des Jeux, Lotto and Casino. Team managers Marc Madiot (La Fran aise des Jeux), Vincent Lavenu (Casino) and the rider Rodolfo Massi (Casino) are arrested. It was also announced that Coca-Cola, a major sponsor of the Tour de France, decided to withdraw from sponsoring the race.[25]

July 30, 1998: Kelme and Vitalicio Seguros pull out of the Tour before the 18th stage. TVM rider Jeroen Blijlevens pulls out near the border with Switzerland. Rodolfo Massi, leader of the Mountains classification, was not able to start the stage as he was still being held in police custody. The truck of the Casino team was seized by police. The media reports that the drugs found in Voet s car were destined to be shared by three other teams Big Mat, La Fran aise des Jeux and Casino. These teams were allegedly mentioned by Festina riders during their confessions.[26]

July 31, 1998: Blijlevens arrived back in the Netherlands and was joined by the rest of the TVM team who did not start the 19th stage. Massi and Terrados are taken from Chamb rg to Lille where investigating judge Patrick Keil would interrogate them. Massi was suspected to be involved in the Festina drugs network and in smuggling of drugs from Italy to France. Massi was allegedly known in the peloton as the little chemist.[27] At this stage there are less than one hundred riders in the race compared to the 189 riders that started the race.[15]

August 1, 1998: Massi is charged with inciting and facilitating the use of doping.[28]

August 3, 1998: Cees Priem, Andrej Michailov and Jan Moors are still held in prison. TVM riders have to present themselves in Reims. After several hours of questioning they are released. TVM masseur Johannes Moors is jailed for suspicion of possessing drugs and breaches of French customs laws. Police find banned substances in the hotel of Team ONCE. Team doctor Terrados alleges that these substances were used by support staff.

August 4, 1998: Jean-Marie Leblanc acknowledges that the increasing speed of the peloton in the Tour was due to the increasing use of doping in the peloton.[29]

August 5, 1998: The media contains many reports of drug finds along the route of the Tour by farmers or by police in the hotels used by teams for example a hotel in Voreppe used by GAN, Casino, Saeco and Kelme.

August 10, 1998: Cantina Tollo and La Fran aise des Jeux vehicles are searched by French customs officials.

Post Tour Investigation

September 13, 1998: Two pharmacists Christine and Eric Paranier are questioned in respect to supplying illegal doping products to Voet.[18]

September 18, 1998: Fran aise des Jeux soigneur Jef d'Hont is taken into police custody and imprisoned for 11 days.[18]

September 23, 1998: Voet accuses Virenque of doping in the French newspaper Le Parisien.[18] Voet said to the newspaper that only three Festina riders were drug free. These were Christophe Bassons, Patrice Halgand and Laurent Lefevre.[30]

October 15, 1998: There is a confrontation between Virenque, Voet and Rijckaert where Virenque calls himself an innocent victim.[18]

November 28, 1998: The results of the analysis of the samples taken from the nine Festina riders are known and are subsequently released and revealed evidence of Human Growth Hormone, amphetamines, steroids, corticoids and Erythropoietin (EPO). In eight of the nine riders test positive for synthetic EPO. The results of the ninth rider (Christophe Moreau) were indeterminate but Moreau had already admitted use of EPO. Traces of amphetamines were found in the samples of Moreau, Pascal Herv , Laurent Brochard and Didier Rous. Four riders had hematocrit levels below the legal limit of 50%, establish in February 1997 [31]. These included Virenque, Armin Meier, Moreau who had a level of 49.3 and Laurent Dufaux who had a level of 47.2%. Five riders were above the limit. Brochard had 50.3%, Neil Stephens 50.3%, Herv 52.6%, Rous 51% and Alex Z lle 52.3%.

December 15, 1998: Laurent Brochard, Christophe Moreau and Didier Rous are suspended by the French Cycling Federation for six months and cannot ride until April 30, 1999.[32]

December 17, 1998: Team doctor of Team ONCE Nicolas Terrados is charged in relation to the import of banned substances.[33]

Investigation in 1999 & Aftermath

January 26, 1999: Joel Chabiron, Festina communications director, is charged.[18]

March 23, 1999: Jean Marie Dalibot, the soigneur of Festina, is charged.[18]

March 26, 1999: Virenque is charged with inciting the use and administration of doping products to others.[18]

April 1, 1999: Jean-Marie Leblanc is taken into police custody and questioned.[18]

April 4, 1999: French Federation Cycling vice president Roger Legacy and President Baal are charged with violation of the anti-doping law of 1989. (These charges would be subsequently dropped).[18]

June, 1999: In an interview with L' quipe, Roussel alleged that when he told Virenque of Voet being arrested, Virenque replied mes produits, comment Je vais faire maintenant? which could be translated as my products/stuff - what am I going to do now?[34]

June 17, 1999: The organisers of the Tour de France announce the teams of the 1999 Tour de France where they take the unprecedented step of banning teams, team officials and individual riders. In the aftermath of the Festina affair, Virenque was banned together his former teammate Herv . Manolo Saiz, manager of ONCE-Deutsche Bank, Dr Nicolas Terrados team doctor of Team ONCE and the entire TVM-Farm Frites were also banned. This was in relation to the actions and behaviour of these teams and riders during the 1998 Tour.[35][36]

Festina Trial

October 23, 2000: Festina trial began. Ten people stood trial. The defendants included:

  • Richard Virenque, former Festina rider and team leader, charged with inciting the administration of doping and masking products to others and complicity in the importation of drugs. Virenque faced a two year jail sentence and a fine of 100,000 francs.
  • Bruno Roussel, former directeur sportif and manager of Festina, charged with helping and inciting the use of doping products in competition, importation, smuggling and improper circulation of prohibited substances as well as complicity in the importation, storage and acquisition of illegal substances.
  • Willy Voet, former soigneur, charged with helping and inciting the use of doping in competition, unauthorized importation of drugs, complicity in smuggling and infringements of the narcotics law.
  • Dr Erik Rijckaert, former Festina doctor, same charges as Roussel plus charged with administering doping products.
  • Dr Nicolas Terrados, team doctor of ONCE at time of 1998 Tour de France and Festina trial, charged with unauthorized importation of drugs
  • Christine Paranier, pharmacist, charged with helping with the use of doping and infringements in public health law.
  • ric Paranier, pharmacist, same charges as Christine Paranier.
  • Jef d'Hont, soigneur of La Fran aise des Jeux team, charged with inciting the use of doping products and infringements of public health law.
  • Jean Dalibot, former soigneur, same charges as Jef d'Hont as well as infringements to customs law.
  • Joel Chabiron, former Festina communications officer, same charges as Jean Dalibot.[37]

Witnesses included:

  • Luc Leblanc
  • Erwan Menth our
  • Christophe Bassons
  • Thomas Davy
  • Laurent Brochard
  • Hein Verbruggen
  • Jean-Marie Leblanc

On the first day of the trial, Voet states that he never let the hematocrit level of the riders exceed 54% whereas other teams were letting it go as high as 64%. This was under the order of team doctor Eric Rijckaert.[38]

October 24, 2000: Virenque admitted to doping.[39]

October 25, 2000: Pascal Herv , Virenque's friend and the only other Festina rider to deny doping admitted to doping.[40]

October 27, 2000: Former rider Thomas Davy testified at the trial that the teams Castorama, Banesto, Team Telekom and La Fran aise des Jeux also had doping programs.[41]

November 1, 2000: On the stand UCI President Hein Verbruggen admitted that organised doping may exist. The following day several doctors of Spanish cycling teams responded by refuting this statement. Jes s Hoyos (Banesto), Kepa Celaya (ONCE) and Eufemiano Fuentes (Kelme doctor) spoke to the Spanish daily paper As to refute this statement.[42] Fuentes would later emerge as the key figure in the Operaci n Puerto doping scandal.

December 22, 2000: Virenque was cleared. Voet was given a 10 month suspended sentence and a 30,000 franc fine. Bruno Roussel, was given a suspended sentence of 1 year and a fine of 50,000 francs.[43] Christine Paranier received a 30,000 francs fine (4,573 euros). Her husband ric received a fine of 10,000 francs (around 1,500 euros). Jef d'Hont received a nine month suspended sentence and a fine of 20,000 francs (around 3,000 euros). Jean Dalibot and Joel Chabiron received a five month suspended sentence. Dr. Terrados was given a 30,000 francs fine. The case against Eric Rijckaert was dropped due to his deteriorating health. He would die a month later of cancer.[44]

December 30, 2000: Swiss cycling federation gave a nine month ban to Virenque and a 4,000 Swiss franc fine.[45]


Many books have been written about the Festina affair.


External links

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