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Sunday 19 April 2020

1998 Tour de France

It’s really interesting to re-watch the coverage from twelve years ago to see how the Channel 4 commentary team (who held the TV rights then) dealt with the drug scandal that engulfed the 1998 Tour de France. With great indifference is the answer. If they and others in the media had taken it a bit more seriously at the time maybe the following decade or so may have panned out differently.

Long before the Tour started trouble was brewing. In March, a TVM team vehicle had been seized by French customs and found to be containing vials of the drug EPO. While Christophe Moreau of Festina failed a drugs test for anabolic steroids at the Dauphiné immediately before the Tour but bizarrely was still allowed to start the race.

Then three days before the start of the Tour itself, a staff member of the same Festina team was arrested at the French border with EPO in his car. The race started in Dublin that year and nothing more happened until the race hit French soil for stage 3. Meanwhile Chris Boardman again won the prologue.

On arrival in France, the management of Festina were arrested and four days later they admitted to doping resulting in them being thrown out of the race. The French police weren’t done though and as they continued to look for evidence against other teams, the majority of the peloton staged a sit down protest before the start of stage 12 and then again midway through stage 17 causing that stage to be annulled.

After the stage five teams walked out of the race in protest at the police raiding the TVM Team’s hotel or perhaps they were just trying to evade arrest as the police took Rodolfo Massi, who was wearing the Polka Dot jersey, in to custody causing him to miss the next stage. Meanwhile the remaining riders of the TVM team took the opportunity to quit the race on Swiss soil and so avoiding facing the French police when the race returned to France the next day.

In the end only half the field finished the race with Marco Pantani winning and Jan Ullrich second, as both managed to avoid getting arrested. Ironically only two teams - Ullrich’s Telekom and US Postal who were about to be fronted by Lance Armstrong, ended the Tour with a full complement of riders. Both teams were pioneers of doping.

Ironically, as many riders later admitted that the investigation had caused them to dispose of their doping products either before the race started or soon afterwards, it may well have been the cleanest Tour for some years and certainly cleaner than the next ten or so. 

(Sunday 19th April)

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