Chronicle Of A Sport In Turmoil: The last 12 months

July: Three days before the Tour starts in Dublin, Festina team soigneur Willy Voet is stopped while crossing the Franco-Belgian…

July: Three days before the Tour starts in Dublin, Festina team soigneur Willy Voet is stopped while crossing the Franco-Belgian border. The discovery of 235 doses of the blood booster erythropoeitin, 82 doses of growth hormone, 60 doses of the steroid testosterone, along with corticoids and amphetamines plunge the race into chaos. Although Bruno Roussel, the manger of Festina, and the team doctor Erik Rijckaert initially deny accusations that the team indulged in systematic doping, the two eventually confess after two days of police questioning.

Festina is thrown off the race, and six of the riders admit to using performance-enhancing substances. Richard Virenque, French sporting icon and four-time king of the mountains winner in the Tour, compatriot Pascal Hervi and Australian Neil Stephens continue to protest their innocence.

Meanwhile, the news that a TVM car was found to contain banned drugs in March leads to police raids on the team hotel and the detention of the team manager and doctor. The Tour is disrupted by the first of two strikes, with the riders protesting at the police action and the media coverage of the crisis. A second strike follows after the TVM hotel is raided late at night and the riders taken into custody, where samples of urine, hair and blood are taken. Six teams pull out of the race, including TVM, and six riders - including the "king of the mountains" Rudolfo Massi, who is accused of drug trafficking - are detained.

August: The Tour eventually reaches Paris with only 96 of the original 189 riders left in the race. It marks the lowest finishing number in two decades.


The momentum of raids and searches continues after the peloton reaches the Champs-Elysees - later in the month the houses of two of the top trainers in the sport, Dr Luigi Cecchini and Dr Michele Ferrari are searched. It is announced that top rider Francesco Casagrande tested positive in the Tour of Romandie in May.

September: Jeff d'Hont, soigneur with the Francaise des Jeux team, is charged with supplying banned drugs. The police investigation dealing with the Festina affair is broadened to include this squad, along with that of Casino and ONCE.

October: Six riders from the Festina team are banned for eight months, although the UCI reduce the bans of Alex Zuelle, Laurent Dufaux and Armin Meier by one month, thus making them eligible to compete in the 1999 Tour.

November: The Societe du Tour de France announces that it will refuse permission for teams or individuals to compete if they are under suspicion of doping. New anti-doping laws are introduced by the French parliament.

December: Medical tests conducted by French police after the arrest of the members of the Festina team in July suggests that all nine riders had used performance-enhancing drugs. Festina team manager Bruno Roussel accuses the French cycling federation and the UCI of tolerating the drugs problem prior to July's crackdown.

January: Pre-season medical checks on French riders reveal what are termed "gross biological abnormalities", with 90 per cent of riders showing dangerous levels of iron and some exhibiting signs of damage to their liver and pancreas.

February: The UCI and FIFA block the imposition of a mandatory two-year ban for serious doping offences at the IOC conference in Lausanne. The Italian parliament makes the supply of doping products a criminal offence.

March: The president and vice-president of the French Cycling Federation are charged with "complicity" regarding the use of drugs in sport. They are later cleared, but Virenque is charged with the same offence.

April: The members of the Mapei-Quickstep team are taken into custody and the Three Days of De Panne race disrupted when a package containing amphetamines is intercepted. A soigneur with the team is later implicated, although the team itself is cleared.

May: Following an investigation into a doping network involving cyclists, soccer players and other sportsmen, French police question 15 people including World Cup leader Frank Vandenbroucke (later cleared) and team-mate Philippe Gaumont. Two men, Bernard Sainz and Bernard Lavelot, are to be charged with dealing in performance-enhancing drugs later this year. Virenque is taken into custody and reportedly confesses to using banned products. He later claims to have been "misquoted".

Willy Voet publishes his autobiography which documents 20 years of doping within the peloton. Sean Kelly is among those he alleges used banned substances.

June: 1998 Tour de France winner Marco Pantani, leading the Tour of Italy with just two days remaining, is thrown out of the race after blood tests show his hematocrit level over the permitted 50 per cent. The organisers of the Tour de France announce that the TVM and Vini Caldirola teams, along with Richard Virenque, ONCE manager Manolo Saiz and team doctor Nicolas Terrados will not be allowed to be involved with the race. Virenque and Saiz get a last-minute reprieve when the UCI intervene, although Tour de France director Jean Marie Leblanc is reported to be "livid" with the governing body's stance.