FALL OUT

The Festina Af­fair was fa­mous for wreck­ing the 1998 Tour de France. But the af­ter­shocks would be felt for months and years af­ter­wards. Pro­cy­cling re­calls the au­tumn of 1998, as cy­cling came to terms with its big­gest ever scan­dal

Procycling - - THE BIG INTERVIEW - Writer Wil­liam Fother­ing­ham Pho­tog­ra­phy Getty Im­ages*

Mid-Au­gust 1998, and I was com­mis­sioned by BBC ra­dio to make a doc­u­men­tary on the Festina dop­ing scan­dal and its af­ter­math. Dur­ing the months af­ter the dis­as­trous Tour de France of that July, the one which came clos­est of any be­fore or since to pre­cip­i­tat­ing the im­plo­sion of pro­fes­sional cy­cling, I worked closely with a pro­ducer whose Ed­in­burgh ac­cent was pure Jean Brodie. Ev­ery few days I went into Broad­cast­ing House with a new in­ter­view or a new an­gle, and we tried to fig­ure out where it all fit­ted into a very com­plex, con­stantly evolv­ing big pic­ture. My en­dur­ing me­mory of those weeks is this: ev­ery fresh rev­e­la­tion about dop­ing within cy­cling would be greeted by my pro­ducer with the ex­cla­ma­tion, “But it’s rrrrife,” rolling the im­pec­ca­ble Auld Reekie ‘R’ with sur­prise.

My pro­ducer had no idea that dop­ing was so wide­spread within cy­cling. But I would be many miles from the truth if I said that those of us who sup­pos­edly were ex­perts on cy­cling had much more of an idea.

You could roll that R to spell out ruin, wreck, and wrath. And ridicu­lous, be­cause Festina was very much a the­atre of the ab­surd. Now, 20 years on, roll that R on rem­i­nis­cence, or ret­ro­spec­tive. As we mark the an­niver­sary of the cat­a­clysm, the Tour it­self has been cen­tral to most of the look­ing back: the two rider strikes, the po­lice raids, the daily dread of what the gen­darmes might dredge up next.

What’s been for­got­ten is that the Festina scan­dal didn’t end on 3 Au­gust 1998, with a cel­e­bra­tory din­ner in the Ho­tel Con­corde Lafayette in Paris, where all pre­sent breathed a sigh of re­lief that they had made it to Paris against the odds. It dragged on through the au­tumn as the rid­ers got on with rac­ing and the gen­darmes got on with un­rav­el­ling pro­fes­sional cy­cling’s seamier side.

The months af­ter the 1998 Tour were dom­i­nated by two themes: the con­stant evo­lu­tion of the in­quiries into dop­ing within the TVM and Festina teams, and the fates of the ‘Festina Nine’ who had been thrown off the Tour when the or­gan­is­ers de­cided – be­lat­edly – that their pres­ence there was dam­ag­ing to the im­age of the sport.

As there had been dur­ing the Tour, there was a bizarre dis­con­nect be­tween the le­gal in­quiries into the rid­ers from Festina and pub­lic opin­ion about them. Their re­cep­tion was summed up two days af­ter the Tour when Alex Zülle, Ar­min Meier and Lau­rent Du­faux signed on at À Travers Lau­sanne, a race held, with the sort of ironic twist that de­lighted Festina watch­ers, in the town that was then the home of both the UCI and the IOC.

There were cheers there, as there tended to be ev­ery­where Festina raced, be it the af­ter-Tour cri­terium at Lisieux, or the Tour of Por­tu­gal, which promised rid­ers “no po­lice raids”. A mi­nor cy­cling cold war broke out be­tween France – tough on dop­ing – and Spain, which was more le­nient. Things were to re­main that way un­til Op­er­a­tion Puerto in 2006. A stage of the Vuelta was rerouted to avoid a mi­nor in­cur­sion into French ter­ri­tory, amid fears that the gen­darmes might de­scend on the race. The ONCE team an­nounced that they wouldn’t race in France again; Lau­rent Jal­abert, their leader, said he had no fur­ther in­ter­est in rid­ing his home Tour.

Amid all this, the Festina rid­ers who had con­fessed to dop­ing – Zülle, Meier, Du­faux, Lau­rent Brochard and

Christophe Moreau - found them­selves in a le­gal im­passe, where nei­ther their na­tional fed­er­a­tions nor the UCI could find the means to ex­clude them from rac­ing. Try­ing to ex­plain that bizarre sit­u­a­tion in our BBC doc­u­men­tary re­duced the then UCI pres­i­dent, the late Hein Ver­bruggen, to a state of near apoplexy.

Con­stant leaks of the in­quiry hear­ings meant that the scan­dal re­mained on the front pages. The ul­ti­mate irony came a few months on when the watch com­pany proudly an­nounced that its pub­lic pro­file was up, and so were its sales.

Mean­while, the hear­ings went on, once French of­fi­cial­dom had re­turned from its Au­gust hol­i­days, as Patrick Keil, the judge be­hind the Festina in­quiry, looked into other teams, and the TVM in­ves­ti­ga­tion chuntered on to what would be an an­ti­cli­mac­tic end. When the Tour win­ner Marco Pan­tani turned up in Brit­tany for the Châteaulin cri­terium, cus­toms point­edly sin­gled him out for a bag­gage search.

Septem­ber 16: Française des Jeux rider Er­wann Men­théour and soigneur Jef d’Hont, with the lat­ter taken into cus­tody for 12 days; 18 Septem­ber: GAN doc­tor Patrick Nédélec; 1 Oc­to­ber, FDJ man­ager Marc Ma­diot; 5 Novem­ber: for­mer world cham­pion Luc Leblanc; 7 De­cem­ber, seven rid­ers from the Casino team.

As at the Tour de France, the fo­cus of at­ten­tion was Richard Virenque. The au­tumn came down to two ques­tions: had he doped? And would he keep rac­ing?

It was ob­vi­ous to any­one that he had been an in­te­gral part of the Festina dop­ing sys­tem – the stream of leaks from the hear­ings made that clear – which gave his per­sis­tent de­nials a sur­real air. It left him open to ridicule from satir­i­cal out­lets such as the pup­pet show Les Guig­nols, where he was de­picted with a sy­ringe com­ing out of his arm; his ex­pla­na­tion of dop­ing “à l’insu de mon plein gré” – of my own free will but un­know­ingly – has en­tered the French lex­i­con as an ex­pres­sion of hyp­o­crit­i­cal de­nial. It did not, how­ever, prevent him from rac­ing up to the Tour of Lom­bardy, or from an­nounc­ing his re­tire­ment, largely as a tac­tic to gain at­ten­tion from po­ten­tial spon­sors. He dropped his price from the 700,000 he was re­ported to have earned at Festina, and even­tu­ally signed with the Ital­ian team Polti.

NEW BE­GIN­NINGS

Dur­ing the fall­out af­ter Festina, that year’s world road race cham­pi­onships took place in Valken­berg, Hol­land, a week of rac­ing on a cir­cuit that took in Maas­trict, the wooded climb of the Bemeler­berg and the fin­ish as­cent up the leg­endary Cauberg. It was marked by grey skies, damp and rain, and de­bate over just where cy­cling was headed. Most of us who were there were ea­gerly look­ing for por­tents of a brighter fu­ture among the leaden skies.

There were point­ers to the fu­ture. Among the British ju­nior team was one Bradley Wig­gins, fresh from a win in the world pur­suit ti­tle and given the last place in the GB ju­nior line-up “be­cause he has a good fu­ture ahead of him” as the team man­ager John Herety put it.

The win­ners of the U23 and ju­nior races mostly went on ei­ther to fame or no­to­ri­ety or both, de­pend­ing on how you look at it. Fabian Can­cel­lara won the ju­nior time trial ti­tle ahead of Torsten Hiek­mann and Filippo Poz­zato; the Swiss would go on to open far greater mar­gins against the watch as a pro, while Poz­zato would win Mi­lan-San Remo.

The U23 time trial ti­tle went to an­other fu­ture leg­end, Thor Hushovd, while the road race went to Ivan Basso from fu­ture Tour de France yel­low jer­sey Ri­naldo No­cen­tini and a third Ital­ian, Danilo Di Luca. If that Ital­ian clean sweep had a sus­pi­cious ring, re­call that while No­cen­tini had a blame­less record, both Basso and Di Luca were busted for dop­ing as pro­fes­sion­als, Basso in Op­eración Puerto, Di Luca with two pos­i­tives for EPO.

But the most op­ti­mism stemmed from the ju­nior men’s gold medal­list. Most of those who had spent the sum­mer fol­low­ing the Tour and the fall­out from Festina knew noth­ing of Mark Scan­lon, the prodigy from County Sligo who had won 38 races that year. They in­cluded big events against se­nior op­po­si­tion: the Gorey and Dun­boyne Three-Days, the Tour of Gal­way and the Ju­nior Tour of Ire­land, where he fin­ished 3min and 20sec ahead of the sec­ond-placed rider, B. Wig­gins.

When the Tour win­ner Marco Pan­tani turned up for the Châteaulin cri­terium, cus­toms point­edly sin­gled him out for a bag­gage search

Scan­lon was a stocky, con­fi­dent young man, a for­mer hurler with a low-slung po­si­tion on his bike which re­called that of Sean Kelly. He fin­ished only 22nd in the time trial, and was, mod­estly, ex­pect­ing a top-10 in the ju­nior road race where he thought he would “get ham­mered” on his 18th birth­day. In­stead, Scan­lon forced the win­ning move clear up the Bemeler­berg, stayed cool when the break split on the Cauberg then re­gained con­tact to win the fin­ish sprint.

The com­par­isons with his leg­endary peers Kelly and Stephen Roche were ob­vi­ous and eas­ily made; the ac­claim in his home­land was in­evitable. Scan­lon re­turned to his mod­est hous­ing es­tate home in Sligo to a wel­come from 2,500 lo­cals, a vast ban­ner on the road out­side his house, a civic re­cep­tion, and so many calls from me­dia and well­wish­ers that his mother had to take the tele­phone off the hook in the evenings.

When the Tour route was an­nounced in Oc­to­ber 1998, the or­gan­is­ers ASO needed to find a young rider who would sym­bol­ise a clean fu­ture for the race. Their as­pi­ra­tion was – as ASO’s Jean-Claude Killy put it – that the Tour would go from be­ing a sym­bol of dop­ing to a sym­bol of the fight against dop­ing. Up on the stage came Scan­lon, pushed into the lime­light in a way which now seems to­tally un­fair on an 18-year-old, but which en­cap­su­lated a sport clutch­ing at any cause for op­ti­mism.

Scan­lon’s ca­reer had its ups and downs af­ter that, largely due to un­timely in­juries, but by 2004 he was mak­ing waves in the Tour de France for the Ag2r team along with oth­ers of that gen­er­a­tion of 1998: Poz­zato, who won the stage into Saint-Brieuc, Can­cel­lara, who won the prologue, and Hushovd, who took the bunch sprint into Quim­per. “He is a mas­sive hope for the fu­ture,” said his team man­ager Vin­cent Lavenu, who hailed the young Ir­ish­man’s ma­tu­rity.

The Sligo racer quit the sport in 2007 af­ter mov­ing to the US to ride for Toy­ota, for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons which in­cluded his girl­friend be­ing preg­nant with med­i­cal com­pli­ca­tions, plus a gen­eral feel­ing af­ter a five-year fight to earn a pro­fes­sional con­tract, Pro­Tour cy­cling wasn’t the place for him. He told this mag­a­zine in 2008, “The men­tal­ity of some pro teams is that when you’re giv­ing 100 per cent you’re just get­ting the piss taken out of you, and they’re not happy if you do that. It’s like you’re mak­ing them look bad or some­thing.

“It be­came a con­stant bat­tle be­tween me and the other Ag2r rid­ers. Even­tu­ally I fell into their way of do­ing things – just get­ting by, race by race, and hav­ing a bit of fun. It was the wrong road to go down. For me, it was the same as get­ting has­sle for do­ing well at school. You’re liked when you’re do­ing noth­ing and dis­liked when you’re do­ing well.” There was spec­u­la­tion that con­tin­ued dop­ing within the pelo­ton played a part, and it may have done – “You won­der if you should be mak­ing big sac­ri­fices to fin­ish 16th or 17th in a race, if guys are dop­ing. It is not

very mo­ti­vat­ing,” he said in 2006 - but it does not seem to have been the clinch­ing fac­tor.

The win­ner of the elite race at the Valken­burg world cham­pi­onship was Os­car Ca­men­zind, a chubby cheeked for­mer post­man from Sch­wyz, the Ger­man-speak­ing can­ton which gave its name to a con­fed­er­a­tion of small states that make up to­day’s Switzer­land. It was a fine solo vic­tory for a rel­a­tive un­known, per­fectly timed from a strong lead group that in­cluded Lance Arm­strong – who placed fourth - Michael Boogerd, Michele Bar­toli and Peter Van Petegem, who would even­tu­ally fin­ish sec­ond af­ter clos­ing to within 23sec, fol­lowed by the Ital­ian. Six days later, the post­man de­liv­ered again, or knocked twice de­pend­ing which head­line you opted for, by win­ning the Giro di Lom­bar­dia, the magic dou­ble of rain­bow jer­sey and Race of the Fall­ing Leaves which had pre­vi­ously crowned only five greats: Al­fredo Binda, Tom Simp­son, Eddy Mer­ckx, Felice Gi­mondi and Giuseppe Saronni.

It was a more than de­cent vic­tory on an­other dark, dank day, as the Swiss broke away with Boogerd on the de­scent of the For­cella di Bura and built a minute’s lead over a chas­ing group in­clud­ing two of the best Clas­sics hunters of the 1990s: Pas­cal Richard and Michele Bar­toli. Ca­men­zind left Boogerd be­hind on the climb into Berg­amo; years later, the Dutch­man claimed that a deal had taken place, some­thing the Swiss de­nied.

Ca­men­zind was wel­comed back to his home­land by Ferdi Kübler, the leg­endary Ea­gle of Adliswil, the last Swiss to win the world ti­tle be­fore him 47 years pre­vi­ously, and it was Kübler who went on to pre­sent him with the ti­tle of Swiss sports­man of the year. The Post­man’s ca­reer pro­gressed neatly there­after with Mapei and Lam­pre, in­clud­ing a vic­tory in LiègeBas­togne-Liège in 2001, ahead of four rid­ers in­clud­ing Boogerd again, also Casagrande and Da­vide Re­bellin.

All those three were banned for dop­ing at var­i­ous stages in their ca­reers, and a dop­ing case ended Ca­men­zind’s ca­reer as well; he was found pos­i­tive for EPO in a ran­dom test in late July 2004, and hung up his wheels im­me­di­ately. Ca­men­zind ex­plained his use of the blood booster as an at­tempt to re­boot his ca­reer af­ter an at­tack of glan­du­lar fever in 2002, and a num­ber of crashes that had brought him close to re­tire­ment. He now ap­pears to de­vote his time to climb­ing.

That then, was the au­tumn of 1998, a cu­ri­ous time, when cy­cling fans were in a state of shock, un­sure where re­newal would come from and when, if ever, the run of scan­dals would end. The key change prob­a­bly came at the end of the year when the French Cy­cling Fed­er­a­tion and the French Pro­fes­sional Cy­clists’ Union adopted what was termed ‘le suivi med­i­cale lon­gi­tu­di­nale’: ex­tended mon­i­tor­ing of the phys­i­ol­ogy of its cy­clists so that med­i­cal anom­alies due to dop­ing could be picked up. This was the fore­run­ner of the bi­o­log­i­cal pass­port, now seen as one of the big turn­ing points in cy­cling’s progress out of the mire.

It would be 10 years be­fore the pass­port came in, and there was an­other por­tent at the end of 1998. As well as Ca­men­zind and Scan­lon, the other big rac­ing news was the run of fourth places – in the Vuelta, the Worlds time trial and the road race – which capped Lance Arm­strong’s re­turn from can­cer and prompted his de­ci­sion to turn his at­ten­tion to the Tour de France. We all know the con­clu­sion to that tale.

The win­ner of the elite race at Valken­burg was Os­car Ca­men­zind, a chubby- cheeked for­mer post­man from Switzer­land

Mark Scan­lon beat Filippo Poz­zato (l) into sec­ond at the 1998 ju­nior Worlds

A less-than- con­trite Richard Virenque, in tears at his ex­clu­sion from the 1998 Tour

Ivan Basso cel­e­brates win­ning the U23 worlds road race in 1998

Ca­men­zind leads Boogerd in the ! inal stages of the men’s Worlds road race

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