Doping at the 1998 Tour de France

See also: Festina affair

The year in which the 1998 Tour de France took place marked the moment when cycling was fundamentally shattered by doping revelations. Paradoxically no riders were caught doping positive by any of the ordinary doping controls in place at the time. Nevertheless, several police searches and interrogations, managed to prove existence of organized doping at the two teams Festina and TVM, who consequently had to withdraw from the race. After stage 16, the police also forced the virtual mountain jersey holder Rodolfo Massi to leave the race, due to having found illegal corticosteroids in his hotel room. The intensive police work, then led to a peloton strike at stage 17, with a fallout of four Spanish teams and one Italian team deciding to leave the race in protest.

Many years later, retrospective tests and rider confessions confirmed the common suspicion, that consumption of EPO had not been limited to those being caught by the police, but in fact was something the majority of the peloton had used, at this point of time.

Police investigations and arrests

Three days ahead of the Tour start, the masseur of Team Festina, Willy Voet, was found at the Belgian border to have his car full of large quantities of syringes and controlled substances, including narcotics, erythropoietin (EPO), growth hormones, testosterone and amphetamines.[1] When raiding the Festina headquarters in France, the police also found a document with systematic drug programmes for the Festina riders.[2] As the Tour had started in Ireland, the French police waited to the first stage in France before arresting the Festina Team's directeur sportif and doctor: Bruno Roussel and Eric Rijckaert.[3] Faced by the evidence, Roussel and Rijckaert soon confessed, leading to all nine Festina riders (incl. notable riders such as 1997 runner-up Richard Virenque, Alex Zülle and Christophe Moreau), being forced to withdraw after stage 6.[4][5][6]

At the first rest day, after stage 11, the Festina affair got extended, with several other teams being searched by the police, and a second police investigation leading to long interrogations of TVM riders and imprisonment of the three TVM staffs: Cees Priem (manager), Andrei Mikhailov (doctor) and Jan Moors (soigneur). As a reaction to the treatment by the French police, the peloton staged a solidarity sit-down protest both during stage 12 and stage 17. The Tour directors later nullified the results of stage 17, as the peloton in a gesture had let all TVM-riders pass the finish line a couple of seconds ahead of the peloton. All four Spanish teams (ONCE, Banesto, Vitalicio Seguros, Kelme) and one Italian team (Riso Scotti) even decided to pull out of the race, at the urging of the ONCE team, led by the French National Champion Laurent Jalabert. After the stage, the police due to a suspicion of organized doping also at other teams, decided to search their hotels and arrested rider Rodolfo Massi (Casino) and the two team managers Marc Madiot (Française des Jeux) and Vincent Lavenu (Casino). Massi was at this point of time nr.7 in the GC and wearing the mountain jersey, but had to leave the race due to the police finding illegal corticosteroids in his hotel room.[7] He was also charged by the police for having sold EPO and other medicines to some riders in the peloton, as Voet had named him as one of his "business relationships",[8] but this criminal charge was later dropped — due to no additional proof found by police.[9] The Italian Olympic Committee subsequently only banned him six months for doping possession.[10]

After stage 17, all the six remaining TVM-riders in the race were escorted by the police to the nearest hospital, for submission of samples to an extra judicial ordered doping control. One day later, the TVM team decided also collectively to withdraw from the race, and thus became the final 7th team to withdraw.

Festina riders tested by police

According to the doping test analysis result for the nine Festina riders, with samples withdrawn by police on 23 July 1998, the following doping substances had been detected:[9][11]

Not all of the nine Festina-riders immediately confessed. While the first seven riders all opted to admit using performance-enhancing drugs when confronted with their positive test results in November 1998, the last two riders Virenque and Herve continued to maintain their innocence, until they in October 2000 finally admitted during the final court proceedings.[12][13][14] All positive riders were punished with a half-year suspension, except Neil Stephens, who escaped a sanction by choosing to retire.

TVM riders tested by police

In the TVM investigation, the police did not limit the extra doping test for samples withdrawn 29 July of the six remaining TVM-riders in the race (Jeroen Blijlevens, Bart Voskamp, Servais Knaven, Steven De Jongh, Serguei Outschakov and Sergei Ivanov). On 20 August 1998 they also called in these seven riders for interrogation and submission of samples for additional doping control: Michel Lafis, Tristan Hoffman, Hendrik Van Dijck, Peter Van Petegem, Laurent Roux, Johan Capiot and Lars Michaelsen. As one of these riders, it was either Capiot or Michaelsen, refused to submit samples, the total number of tested TVM riders was 12. In May 2001, during the final court hearing in the TVM trial, the medical expert witnesses stated, that from this tested group the test results had proofed, that the following six were "very likely" to have injected the specified doping substances:[15][16][17]

All of the six riders testing positive, refused in court ever to have used doping. The court however found sufficient amount of evidence had been presented (104 EPO vials seized from a TVM-car in March 1998, syringes with EPO remainings found in dustbins located in TVM rented hotel rooms during the Tour de France, as well as other doping products seized from TVM's Tour bus), to conclude that organized doping at the TVM team was conducted in the preparation and during the 1998 Tour de France. Consequently, the court handed out suspended sentences from 6–18 months to the team's manager, sports director and soigneur.[18] For unknown reasons, none of the six positive riders had their cases evaluated by a sports court, and thus none of them ever received suspensions for their positive tests.

Later confessions of the nine TVM-riders in the 1998 Tour de France:

Retrospective EPO test

At the time of the race there was no official test for EPO. In 2004, 60 remaining antidoping samples given by riders during the 1998 Tour, were tested retrospectively for recombinant EPO by using three recently developed detection methods. More precisely the laboratory compared the result of test method A: "Autoradiography — visual inspection of light emitted from a strip displaying the isoelectric profile for EPO" (published in the Nature journal as the first EPO detection method in June 2000[22]), with the result of test method B: "Percentage of basic isoforms — using an ultra-sensitive camera that by percentage quantify the light intensity emitted from each of the isoelectric bands" (pioneered at the Olympics in September 2000, with values above 80% classified as positive, but the laboratory applying an 85% threshold for retrospective samples - to be absolutely certain that no false-positives can occur when analyzing on samples stored for multiple years). For those samples with enough urine left, these results of test method A+B were finally also compared with the best and latest test method C: "Statistical discriminant analysis — taking account all the band profiles by statistical distinguish calculations for each band" (which feature both higher sensitivity and accuracy compared to test method B[23]).[24]

The results of test method A applied retrospectively in 2004, were published to have returned 44 positives and 9 negatives, while the last 7 samples did not return any readable results due to sample degradation. At first, the rider names with a positive sample were not made public, as it had only been conducted as scientific research.[25] In July 2013, the antidoping committee of the French Senate however decided it would benefit the current doping fight to shed full light on the past, and so decided — as part of their "Commission of Inquiry into the effectiveness of the fight against doping" report — to publish all sample IDs along with the result of the retrospective test. This publication revealed, that the 9 negative samples belonged to 5 riders, of which 2 have admitted to have used EPO before or during the 1998 Tour de France (George Hincapie[26] and Stuart O'Grady[27]), while the 44 positive samples belonged to 33 riders — including race winner Marco Pantani, runner-up Jan Ullrich, third on the podium Bobby Julich, and points-competition winner Erik Zabel.[24][28]

44 Positive samples for Recombinant EPO[24][n 1]
Sample ID Date Rider Team
066-211 19 July  Abraham Olano (ESP) Banesto
066-191* 14 July  Alain Turicchia (ITA) Asics-CGA
066-197 12 July  Andrea Tafi (ITA) Mapei
066-189* 21 July  Axel Merckx (BEL) Polti
066-199 13 July  Bo Hamburger (DEN) Casino-Ag2r
066-092* 21 July  Bobby Julich (USA) Cofidis
064-424 31 July  Eddy Mazzoleni (ITA) Saeco
066-083 19 July  Eddy Mazzoleni (ITA) Saeco
066-200 12 July  Erik Zabel (GER) Telekom
066-216 21 July  Erik Zabel (GER) Telekom
066-205* 11 July  Ermanno Brignoli (ITA) Riso Scotti - MGM
066-084 19 July  Fabio Sacchi (ITA) Polti
066-209* 17 July  Frederic Moncassin (FRA) GAN
066-090 26 July  Giuseppe Calcaterra (ITA) Saeco Macchine
066-086 19 July  Jacky Durand (FRA) Casino-Ag2r
064-421* 28 July  Jan Ullrich (GER) Telekom
065-110 ?02 Aug02 Aug Jan Ullrich (GER) Telekom
066-101 24 July  Jan Ullrich (GER) Telekom
066-210* 18 July  Jan Ullrich (GER) Telekom
066-224 26 July  Jan Ullrich (GER) Telekom
066-198 14 July  Jens Heppner (GER) Telekom
066-085 15 July  Jeroen Blijlevens (NED) TVM-Farm Frites
066-087 25 July  Kevin Livingston (USA) Cofidis
066-094 20 July  Laurent Desbiens (FRA) Cofidis
066-219 22 July  Laurent Jalabert (FRA) ONCE
066-183 22 July  Manuel Beltrán (ESP) Banesto
064-408 28 July  Marco Pantani (ITA) Mercatone Uno
066-095 22 July  Marco Pantani (ITA) Mercatone Uno
066-096* 21 July  Marco Pantani (ITA) Mercatone Uno
066-222 27 July  Marco Pantani (ITA) Mercatone Uno
066-099 13 July  Marcos Serrano (ESP) Kelme-Costa Blanca
066-212 17 July  Mario Cipollini (ITA) Saeco Macchine
066-230* 21 July  Michael Boogerd (NED) Rabobank
066-105 15 July  Nicola Minali (ITA) Riso Scotti-MGM
066-215 17 July  Nicola Minali (ITA) Riso Scotti-MGM
066-192* 16 July No ID N/A
066-082* 18 July  Pascal Chanteur (FRA) Casino-Ag2r
066-223* 22 July  Roland Meier (SUI) Cofidis
065-112 ?02 Aug02 Aug Stefano Zanini (ITA) Mapei
066-098 24 July  Stephane Barthe (FRA) Casino-Ag2r
064-415 26 July  Stuart O'Grady (AUS) GAN
066-201* 12 July  Tom Steels (BEL) Mapei
066-213 17 July  Udo Bölts (GER) Telekom
066-103* 15 July  Xavier Jan (FRA) Française des Jeux

9 Negative samples for Recombinant EPO[24][n 2]
Sample ID Date Rider Team
066-102 15 July  George Hincapie (USA) US Postal
064-423 ?02 Aug02 Aug George Hincapie (USA) US Postal
066-181 17 July  Jan Svorada (CZE) Mapei
064-410 31 July  Maarten den Bakker (NED) Rabobank
066-195 13 July No ID (either 066-195 or 066-104 belong to stage winner Jan Svorada) N/A
066-104 13 July No ID (either 066-195 or 066-104 belong to stage winner Jan Svorada) N/A
066-196 12 July  Robbie McEwen (AUS) Rabobank
064-411 30 July  Stuart O'Grady (AUS) GAN
066-431 ?02 Aug02 Aug Stuart O'Grady (AUS) GAN

Prior of the published retrospective test, the following riders had already admitted using EPO in preparation/during the 1998 Tour:

After the release of the retrospective test report, the following riders also admitted using EPO in preparation/during the 1998 Tour:

When combining the EPO abuse confessions of the two riders testing negative with all the positive test results, it was indicated that 35 out of the 38 retrospectively tested riders (92%) had been using EPO in the 1998 Tour de France. A number, which came on top of the additional 9 out of 9 Festina riders and 2 out of 9 TVM riders, who already had confessed EPO abuse due to their implication in the prior police investigations.

Additional doping confessions

Among the riders who were never tested for EPO abuse, the following never-the-less later on confessed also having doped with EPO in preparation/during the 1998 Tour de France:

Riders in the top 10 of the final general classification, accused of doping

Chris Boardman was the only rider to wear the yellow jersey in 1998 who has not been accused of doping.[50] Of the top ten riders to finish the 1998 Tour, eight were later accused or convicted of doping:

Rank Name Team Time Notes
1 Marco Pantani Mercatone Uno 92h 49' 46" Retrospectively tested positive for EPO use in July 1998.[24][28]
In the 1999 Giro d'Italia, while wearing the leader jersey, he was forced to take a two-week break from racing due to a hematocrit value above 50%.[51] Died of cocaine overdose in 2004.
2 Jan Ullrich Telekom + 3' 21" Retrospectively tested positive for EPO use in July 1998.[24][28]
Implicated in the Telekom affair, where Jef d'Hont named him as one of the riders he injected with EPO in 1996.[49][52] Involved in Operación Puerto, where he in 2011 was suspended two years, for using blood doping throughout 1 May 2005 until his last active day in June 2006.[53] Admitted in 2013, to have used blood doping from 1 May 2005 until June 2006.[54]
3 Bobby Julich Cofidis + 4' 08" Retrospectively tested positive for EPO use in July 1998.[24][28]
Accused by teammate Philippe Gaumont in the book Prisonnier du dopage, for using EPO and growth hormones as preparation ahead of the 1998 Tour.[55][56] Admitted in 2012, to have used EPO several times from August 1996 until July 1998.[29][57]
4 Christophe Rinero Cofidis + 9' 16" Accused by teammate Philippe Gaumont in the book Prisonnier du dopage, for using EPO and growth hormones as preparation ahead of the 1998 Tour.[55][56]
5 Michael Boogerd Rabobank + 11' 26" Retrospectively tested positive for EPO use in July 1998.[24][28]
Accused by Floyd Landis of blood doping in 2003.[58] Involved in the Humanplasma affair around 2006-2007.[59][60] After ending his career, he admitted a previous use of cortisone at a talkshow in 2008.[61] Admitted in March 2013, that he used cortisone, EPO and blood doping throughout 1997-2007.[30]
6 Jean-Cyril Robin US Postal + 14' 57"
7 Roland Meier Cofidis + 15' 13"

Retrospectively tested positive for EPO use in July 1998.[24][28]
Tested positive for EPO at the Flèche Wallonne race in April 2001.[62]

8 Daniele Nardello Mapei + 16' 07"
9 Giuseppe Di Grande Mapei + 17' 35"Caught in the "San Remo raid" (June 2001) for using growth hormone and insulin, and by the same event sentenced to 6 months imprisonment.[63][64]
10 Axel Merckx Polti + 17' 39" Retrospectively tested positive for EPO use in July 1998.[24][28]
Named in the Giardini Margherita criminal investigation (August 1998),[65] as an EPO-receiving client of the doping doctor Michele Ferrari.[66]


  1. Positive samples marked with a *, were only analyzed by the visual inspection test "autoradiography" (referred to as "test method A"), and not by one of the later WADA approved EPO detection test methods (referred to as test method B and C).[24] Some press sources consequently decided to label those samples only as "suspicious", rather than "positive".[28]
  2. Despite submitting negative samples, both George Hincapie and Stuart O'Grady recently confessed also having used EPO before/during the 1998 Tour de France.[26][27]


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