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 Two Dutch cycling officials are placed in custody.

 Armin Meier, a member of the banned Festina racing team, had admitted taking the banned substance EPO.

 Analysis: The drug scandal is taking center stage in France.

 The Festina team is excluded from the Tour.

 Tour de France section

  Troubled Tour Resumes; Steels Wins 18th Stage

By Francois Thomazeau
Reuters
Thursday, July 30, 1998; 1:02 p.m. EDT



 Despite the protests, 103 riders left the French Alpine town of Aix-les-Bains for a 135½-mile ride through stunning countryside to Neuchatel. (AFP)
NEUCHATEL, Switzerland — The Tour de France, teetering on the verge of collapse because of a major doping scandal, should make it to Sunday's finish in Paris after police stemmed their investigations.

Belgian Tom Steels claimed his third stage win in this year's Tour in Neuchatel as the race resumed after a day of chaos.

Steels' record on this Tour reads like a summary of the race – he won a first stage in Dublin, when news emerged that a Festina team masseur had been arrested, a second in Le Cap d'Agde, when riders went on strike, and the third Thursday, 24 hours after the 17th stage ended in chaos amidst police raids and teams pulling out.

The Belgian outsprinted German Erik Zabel and Australian Stuart O'Grady at the end of this 135.4-mile 18th stage from Aix-les-Bains.

Italian Marco Pantani, who kept his overall leader's yellow jersey, said: "We agreed with Tour organizers to go on with the race. To give up would only make things worse and would be like admitting we have things to hide."

Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc said Thursday he was confident the Tour would be completed.

"All together, we are going to complete this Tour like 84 previous Tours were completed," he said at the start of the 18th stage from Aix-les-Bains to Neuchatel, in Switzerland.

"We are only four days away from the end of the race and to reach Paris will be for us a great reward," he added.

In Reims, where a judge is currently investigating doping charges against the Dutch team TVM, the prosecutor's office confirmed the team's riders would be quizzed by the judge, but only after the end of the race.

Police in Lille, who raided three team hotels in Chambery Wednesday as part of their investigations into the Festina team, said they had completed all the searches and questioning they planned.

Riders had threatened to quit if more police raids took place.

Five teams pulled out of the race in the last 24 hours, mostly after instructions from their sponsors. All Spanish teams in the Tour – ONCE, Banesto, Vitaliio and Kelme – and Italian squad Riso Scotti have withdrawn.

Kelme owner Alvaro Pino said: "The treatment of the cyclists was totally unjust and because of this, Kelme-Costa Blanca have opted to withdraw from the competition."

Manuel Saiz, whose ONCE-Deutsche Bank team was the first to pull out Wednesday, said: "The Tour has treated us very badly."

The ONCE director also hit out at Wednesday's stage – which was raced without numbers and at half pace – describing it as a "pantomime."

The Tour continued Thursday with only 103 riders.

Hearings continued in Chambery as Italian Rodolfo Massi, who was leading the best climber classification, was held for questioning by the police following a raid aimed at his Casino team Wednesday.

It was not immediately clear why Massi, who missed the start, was being questioned but police sources said corticoids had been found in his room. Corticoids are not necessarily banned products.

La Francaise des Jeux team director Marc Madiot was also held in Chambery but he was released Thursday afternoon.

A ONCE team doctor and a TVM masseur were also detained.

Leblanc denounced what he called "harassment from justice and the media" but said the Tour was going on for the public.

"We will do it out of respect for spectators and television viewers," he said.

"I wish to thank those who remained solid and especially the 103 riders who were at the start this morning," added Leblanc.

© Copyright 1998 Reuters

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