Saturday 26 May 2018

Cycling: French expose drug shame of '98 Tour heroes Pantani and Ullrich

Marco Pantani
Marco Pantani

A French inquiry into sports doping has uncovered proof that 1998 Tour de France champion Marco Pantani and runner-up Jan Ullrich used a banned blood booster to fuel their performances.

France's senate, after a five-month investigation focused on fighting sports doping, released a report that confirms what many riders have long said: use of the banned substance EPO was rife in cycling in the late 1990s, before a test for the drug had been developed.

Pantani was suspended in 1999 from the Giro after failing a random blood test, and his career was damaged by several doping investigations. He died in 2004 at 34 of an accidental drug overdose.

Ullrich, the 1997 Tour winner, has admitted to blood doping and last year was stripped of his third-place finish in the 2005 Tour.

The 1998 Tour de France was notable for the major scandal that emerged with the discovery of widespread doping on the French Festina team. The subsequent police crackdown led to seven of the original 21 teams either withdrawing or being ejected from the Tour.

Other star riders whose positive doping tests were disclosed by the senate report include double stage winner Mario Cipollini of Italy and Laurent Jalabert of France.

Kevin Livingston, an American who finished 17th in that year's Tour, also tested positive for EPO, according to documents included in the senate report.

Senators took pains to point out that the 1998 Tour de France disclosures represented only a few pages of the 800-page report released Wednesday, which mainly focused on establishing the size of the sports doping problem and identifying ways of improving anti-doping measures.

The positive tests disclosed in the senate report were uncovered via retrospective testing in 2004 and 2005, by French anti-doping authorities seeking to perfect their test for EPO.

The results had since been stored without the identities of the riders being released.

Brian Cookson, the head of British Cycling, who is challenging Pat McQuaid for the presidency of the sport's governing body UCI in September elections, called the senate report "a terrible indictment of the people responsible, and those with the most responsibility for the culture within the sport are the UCI."

Another former French pro whose positive doping test emerged on Wednesday said senators risked tarring a cleaner new generation of cyclists with the disclosure of 15-year-old doping revelations.

"I'm thinking of Thibaut Pinot, who finished 10th in the Tour at 22, or Romain Bardet," said Jacky Durand, winner of one stage of the 1998 Tour as well as the prize for most combative rider. Durand, now a cycling commentator on Eurosport, said that in his day, "we needed to 'salt the soup,' as the older riders said.

"Our sport is much cleaner today, I want people to understand that."

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