Festina Team Excluded From Tour
By Pierre-Antoine Souchard
Associated Press Writer
Friday, July 17, 1998; 5:47 p.m. EDT
LILLE, France (AP) The Festina cycling team was kicked out of the Tour de France on Friday, hours after the team director and doctor were placed under formal investigation in a doping scandal.
Team director Bruno Roussel admitted to a ''concerted'' practice of providing the team with performance-enhancing drugs.
Jean-Marie Leblanc, director of the Tour de France, which continues through the finish in Paris on Aug. 2, said the team was being excluded in part to ``end the unhealthy climate'' that has hung over the competition since it began in Dublin, Ireland last Saturday.
``It seems to me that the sports ethic, the morality of the Tour are the most important thing. .... We have taken the decision to exclude the Festina team starting now,'' Leblanc said.
Roussel said earlier Friday in a statement read by his lawyer that there was an organized practice of providing drugs to cyclists that touched the chain of command within the team.
Roussel and team doctor Eric Ryckaert have been in custody since Wednesday evening after police found a stash of performance-enhancing drugs in the team masseur's car. They were returned to jail.
The masseur was placed under investigation, a step short of being charged, earlier this week.
Officials said Roussel was placed under investigation for importing and circulation of prohibited merchandise as well as administering, facilitating and inciting the use of doping substances and infraction of drug laws. Ryckaert was placed under investigation for importing and circulating prohibited merchandise.
In a statement read by Roussel's lawyer, Thibault de Montbrial, the team director admitted to a ``concerted'' practice of providing cyclists with doping products organized between the direction, doctors, masseurs and cyclists.''
``The object was to optimize performances under strict medical control,'' the statement said, ``in order to avoid cyclists personally and uncontrollably supplying themselves under conditions that could be bad for their health.''
Prosecutor Jean-Philippe Joubert said Festina cyclists would be questioned as witnesses in the case.
Michel Gros, who replaced Roussel, said that Festina is a scapegoat in the cycling world where doping, he claimed, is common practice.
``Within the entire pack, it (doping) exists,'' Gros said in Varetz, in central France, where the team was spending the night.
But one Festina cyclist, Pascal Herve, of France, said he has ``never used EPO or other things.'' He was referring to the difficult-to-detect substance EPO that helps pump oxygen into the bloodstream.
Speaking in Varetz, Herve said he ``only takes products for recovering.''
© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press