Frenchmen Excel in Tour de France
By Salvatore Zanca
Sunday, July 19, 1998; 5:20 p.m. EDT
A drug scandal has rocked the cycling showcase, and Sunday's eighth stage could not completely cast aside the shadow of drug use.
Laurent Desbiens, who in 1996 was suspended for six months for failing a drug test, took the overall lead. He was part of a breakaway group that finished more than seven minutes ahead of the pack.
Jacky Durand of France won the stage. He was part of the group that included Desbiens in the day's 118-mile leg from Brive-La Gaillarde to Montauban.
Durand won the final sprint over Andrea Tafi, with two other Italians, Fabio Sacchi and Eddy Mazzoleni, third and fourth. Desbiens was fifth.
Desbiens' suspension in 1996 stemmed from a race in France in which he was found to have used the steroid nandrolone.
On Sunday, the major pack finished more than seven minutes behind Durand. That was enough to let Desbians take the leader's yellow jersey from defending champion Jan Ullrich of Germany, who took it in Saturday's time trial.
``After 40 kilometers, I was tired already and I was giving water to other members of the team just to help Bo Hamburger,'' Durand said. Hamburger of Denmark was second in the overall standings at the time and Durand was trying to keep him in contention.
``The pack was tired because of the heat and somehow I wound up with more water than expected,'' Durand said. ``Maybe that's why I won.''
The extreme heat prompted a change in regulations, allowing water to be brought to the riders more often.
Desbiens is not expected to hold the lead in the mountains. Desbiens ended up nearly four hours behind Ullrich in last year's final standings, placing 127th.
Ullrich is now fifth, 3:21 behind, but he still has large margins over his major rivals.
Hamburger is 1:18 behind Ullrich. He is sixth and American Bobby Julich is seventh, in the same time as Hamburger.
Desbiens won a stage last year by coming in second. Sergei Outschalkov of Ukraine was first in Perpignan but was placed last after interference in the final sprint.
``Last year, I won a stage in special conditions,'' Desbiens said. ``But I wanted to come back and do something better this year.''
The ninth stage is from Montauban to Pau at the base of the mountains followed by two stages in which there will be four major climbs on Tuesday and five on Wednesday.
Last year, Ullrich made his first big move in the Pyrenees to take control, stretching his lead by minutes over the final 12 days with the help of his German Telekom team.
Only the Festina team, led by Richard Virenque, was able to challenge Ullrich and Telekom. Virenque was the only racer within 10 minutes of Ullrich in 1997.
But the Festina team is gone now. Its ouster ended a chaotic week since the historic start in Ireland on July 11.
The leader of the first two days, Chris Boardman, fell and crashed out of the race last Monday while wearing the yellow jersey.
Then the drug scandel hit. First, Festina's director Bruno Roussel was detained by police for questioning along with the team doctor. They were moved to Lille for further investigation.
Tour officials ejected the Festina team from the three-week race Friday after Roussel admitted a practice of supplying illegal drugs with medical supervision to improve performances.
The Festina riders withdrew from the race Saturday at the request of the Tour de France after first trying to defy the ban and race in Saturday's time trial.
Roussel, team doctor Erik Ryckaert and team masseur Wily Voet were still under police custody in Lille. Voet was jailed July 9 after customs officials found a stash of performance-enhacing drugs in Voet's car bearing Festina emblems.
The three are expected in court July 24.
© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press