Festina affair

The Festina affair was a series of doping scandals that occurred during and after the 1998 Tour de France. The affair began when a large haul of doping products was found in a car belonging to the Festina cycling team just before the start of the race. A resulting investigation revealed systematic doping, and suspicion was raised that there may have been a widespread network of doping involving many teams of the Tour de France. Hotels were searched by police, confessions were made by retired and current riders, and team personnel were arrested or detained. Several teams withdrew from the race.

By December 2000, all nine Festina riders had confessed to using erythropoietin (EPO) and other substances during the 1998 Tour de France, and suspended sentences ranging from 5–12 months were handed out to Festina soigneur Willy Voet, Festina manager Bruno Roussel, La Française des Jeux soigneur Jef d'Hont, former Festina soigneur Jean Dalibot, and Festina communication officer Joel Chabiron. The two accused pharmacists, Éric Paranier and Christine Paranier, along with ONCE team doctor Nicolás Terrados, were only given fines, while the case against Festina doctor Eric Rijckaert was dropped because of his deteriorating health.


Doping in Festina

On July 8, 1998, Festina soigneur Willy Voet was stopped by customs officers at the Belgian-French border close to Neuville-en-Ferrain near Lille in Northern France. Officers discovered several hundred grams and capsules of anabolic steroids, erythropoietin (EPO), syringes, and other doping products. Voet was taken into police custody. Festina offices were searched in Lyon and seized other suspect products, including perflourocarbon.[1]

Two days after Voet's arrest, Bruno Roussel, directeur sportif of Festina, denied any involvement with the uncovered drugs.[2] However, the following day, French police announced that on top of the contraband items found in Voet's car, a document was discovered at Festina's headquarters which detailed systematic drug programmes for Festina's riders.[3] As the Tour de France began in Dublin, it was announced that the Festina riders Richard Virenque, Alex Zülle and Laurent Dufaux would face questioning when they returned to France.

On July 15, Roussel and Festina team doctor Eric Rijckaert were arrested in Cholet. The Festina hotel was searched by eight gendarmes.[4] Roussel lost his licence as a manager of a cycling team from the Union Cycliste Internationale, but Virenque, Dufaux and Brochard called a press conference and stated that the Festina team would not withdraw from the race.[5] However, Tour de France race directeur Jean-Marie Leblanc expelled the team from the Tour after Roussel confessed to systematic doping on the team.[6][7] The following day, Virenque left the Tour in tears.[8]

Nine riders and three officials from Festina were taken into police custody on July 23; of the entire team, only Christophe Bassons was not arrested nor implicated in doping.[9] Eric van de Sijpe, a Belgian judge, ordered a search of Rijckaert's office, whereby the police obtained computer files proving the riders were using EPO. Riders Virenque, Dufaux, Pascal Hervé, Didier Rous, Alex Zülle, and Armin Meier were questioned in Lyon and held in police custody.[10] All nine of the implicated riders were escorted to a hospital and made to undergo extensive tests and give blood, hair and urine samples.[11]

Upon release the following day, five Festina riders (Zülle, Dufaux, Moreau, Brochard and Meier) admitted to doping while Virenque and Hervé maintained their innocence. Zülle claimed that he needed to engage in doping to satisfy Festina's corporate sponsors, while Dufaux stated that he confessed due to overwhelming evidence collected by police.[12] In custody, Voet and Roussel explained how doping was organised on the Festina team, and claimed that the other cycling teams are involved in smuggling banned substances.[13] On July 27, Festina rider Neil Stephens admitted taking performance-enhancing drugs but claims that he thought the EPO injections were legal supplements.[14]

Doping in TVM

On July 19, 1998, the day after Festina left the 1998 Tour de France, the French daily Aujourd’hui reported that police had found 104 ampules of EPO in a vehicle belonging to the TVM team during a routine customs check close to Reims in northeast France.[15] On the same day as the Festina arrests, French police raided TVM's hotel in Pamiers, resulting in the arrest and detainment of TVM manager Cees Priem and TVM doctor Andrei Michailov. Four other TVM officials, including directeur sportif Hendrik Redant, were interrogated and released. Police found drug evidence in a suitcase and a rubbish bin in TVM’s hotel rooms in Toulouse and Metz.[16] An investigation into TVM was launched on July 24.[17]

On July 28, the TVM team was met by police in Albertville. Six TVM riders, including Jeroen Blijlevens, Bart Voskamp, Servais Knaven and Steven de Jongh, were taken in the night to a hospital where they gave blood, hair, and urine samples; TVM soigneur Jan Moors was arrested. Police also took three cases, a sports bag and a dustbin from the TVM team. Afterwards, the rest of the team were taken into custody and escorted to the hospital for extensive drug tests.[18]

Impact on the Tour

Other cycling teams on the Tour expressed support for the embattled riders, and objected to their treatment as criminals. Banesto and Team ONCE expressed support for a statement by International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch that performance-enhancing drugs should be legalized. On July 29, the Tour peloton conducted an industrial action by cycling slowly. Team ONCE, led by French champion Laurent Jalabert, pulled out first while the Banesto and Risco Scotti teams left at the feeding zone. The peloton stopped a second time and threatened a mass withdrawal, leading the stage to be cancelled. That afternoon, raids were conducted on Team ONCE, Team Polti, La Française des Jeux, Lotto and Casino. Team managers Marc Madiot (La Française des Jeux), Vincent Lavenu (Casino) and the rider Rodolfo Massi (Casino) were arrested.[19] Kelme and Vitalicio Seguros pulled out of the race the following day.

TVM rider Jeroen Blijlevens pulls out near the border with Switzerland. Rodolfo Massi, leader of the Mountains classification, was not able to start the stage as he was still being held in police custody. The truck of the Casino team was seized by police. The media reports that the drugs found in Voet’s car were destined to be shared by three other teams – Big Mat, La Française des Jeux and Casino. These teams were allegedly mentioned by Festina riders during their confessions.[20]

July 31, 1998: Blijlevens arrived back in the Netherlands and was joined by the rest of the TVM team who did not start the 19th stage. Massi and Terrados are taken from Chambéry to Lille where investigating judge Patrick Keil would interrogate them. Massi was suspected to be involved in the Festina drugs network and in smuggling of drugs from Italy to France. Massi was allegedly known in the peloton as the little chemist.[21] At this stage there are fewer than one hundred riders in the race compared to the 189 riders that started the race.[22]

August 1, 1998: Massi is charged with inciting and facilitating the use of doping.[23]

August 3, 1998: Cees Priem, Andrej Michailov and Jan Moors are still held in prison. TVM riders have to present themselves in Reims. After several hours of questioning they are released. TVM masseur Johannes Moors is jailed for suspicion of possessing drugs and breaches of French customs laws. Police find banned substances in the hotel of Team ONCE. Team doctor Terrados alleges that these substances were used by support staff.

August 4, 1998: Jean-Marie Leblanc acknowledges that the increasing speed of the peloton in the Tour was due to the increasing use of doping in the peloton.[24]

August 5, 1998: The media contains many reports of drug finds along the route of the Tour – by farmers or by police in the hotels used by teams – for example a hotel in Voreppe used by GAN, Casino, Saeco and Kelme.

August 10, 1998: Cantina Tollo and La Française des Jeux vehicles are searched by French customs officials.

Post-tour investigation

September 13, 1998: Two pharmacists Christine and Eric Paranier are questioned in respect to supplying illegal doping products to Voet.[11]

September 18, 1998: Française des Jeux soigneur Jef d'Hont is taken into police custody and imprisoned for 11 days.[11]

September 23, 1998: Voet accuses Virenque of doping in the French newspaper Le Parisien.[11] Voet said to the newspaper that only three Festina riders were drug free. These were Christophe Bassons, Patrice Halgand and Laurent Lefevre.[25]

October 15, 1998: There is a confrontation between Virenque, Voet and Rijckaert where Virenque calls himself an innocent victim.[11]

November 28, 1998: The results of the analysis of the samples taken from the nine Festina riders are known and are subsequently released and revealed evidence of Human Growth Hormone, amphetamines, steroids, corticoids and Erythropoietin (EPO). In eight of the nine riders test positive for synthetic EPO. The results of the ninth rider (Christophe Moreau) were indeterminate but Moreau had already admitted use of EPO. Traces of amphetamines were found in the samples of Moreau, Pascal Hervé, Laurent Brochard and Didier Rous. Four riders had hematocrit levels below the legal limit of 50%, establish in February 1997.[26] These included Virenque, Armin Meier, Moreau who had a level of 49.3 and Laurent Dufaux who had a level of 47.2%. Five riders were above the limit. Brochard had 50.3%, Neil Stephens 50.3%, Hervé 52.6%, Rous 51% and Alex Zülle 52.3%.

December 15, 1998: Laurent Brochard, Christophe Moreau and Didier Rous are suspended by the French Cycling Federation for six months and cannot ride until April 30, 1999.[27]

December 17, 1998: Team doctor of Team ONCE Nicolas Terrados is charged in relation to the import of banned substances.[28]

Investigation in 1999 and aftermath

January 26, 1999: Joel Chabiron, Festina communications director, is charged.[11]

March 23, 1999: Jean Marie Dalibot, the soigneur of Festina, is charged.[11]

March 26, 1999: Virenque is charged with inciting the use and administration of doping products to others.[11]

April 1, 1999: Jean-Marie Leblanc is taken into police custody and questioned.[11]

April 4, 1999: French Federation Cycling vice president Roger Legacy and President Baal are charged with violation of the anti-doping law of 1989. (These charges would be subsequently dropped).[11]

June, 1999: In an interview with L'Équipe, Roussel alleged that when he told Virenque of Voet being arrested, Virenque replied mes produits, comment Je vais faire maintenant? which could be translated as my products/stuff – what am I going to do now?[29]

June 17, 1999: The organisers of the Tour de France announce the teams of the 1999 Tour de France where they take the unprecedented step of banning teams, team officials and individual riders. In the aftermath of the Festina affair, Virenque was banned together his former teammate Hervé. Manolo Saiz, manager of ONCE-Deutsche Bank, Dr Nicolas Terrados team doctor of Team ONCE and the entire TVM-Farm Frites were also banned. This was in relation to the actions and behaviour of these teams and riders during the 1998 Tour.[30][31]

Festina trial

October 23, 2000: Start of the Festina trial with ten people charged, including:

Witnesses included:

October 23, 2000: Erwann Menthéour's book, Secret Defonce: Ma vérité sur le dopage (February 1999) describes how he used EPO while riding for Française des Jeux in 1997, and stated that the soigneur of the Française des Jeux team, Jef d'Hont, was the one providing him with EPO and treating him with a glucose-infusion one hour ahead of a UCI hematocrit test in the 1997 edition of Paris-Nice, in a vain attempt to lower his hematocrit value below the 50%-limit.[34] He also stated that his team manager Marc Madiot had been fully aware of his EPO use in 1997.[35]

October 23, 2000: On the first day of the trial, Voet stated that he never let the hematocrit level of the riders exceed 54% whereas other teams were letting it go as high as 64%. This was under the order of team doctor Eric Rijckaert.[36]

October 24, 2000: Virenque admitted to doping.[37][38]

October 25, 2000: Pascal Hervé, Virenque's friend and the only other Festina rider to deny doping, admitted to doping.[38][39]

October 27, 2000: Former rider Thomas Davy testified at the trial that the teams Castorama, Banesto, Team Telekom and La Française des Jeux had been running organized systematic doping programs, similar to the one revealed at the Festina Team. He knew that from riding at Castorama (1992–94), Banesto (1995–96) and Française des Jeux (1997). His use of EPO started in 1995, and continued until the end of his career, after the 1997 season. When asked if Miguel Indurain at Banesto had also used EPO, he said "I don't know. I didn't go into every room, but I think he did". He stated that Jef d'Hont as the person supplying him with EPO while he was riding for Française des Jeux in 1997.[35]

November 1, 2000: On the stand UCI President Hein Verbruggen admitted that organised doping may exist. The following day several doctors of [Spanish cycling teams refuted this statement. Jesús Hoyos (Banesto), Kepa Celaya (ONCE) and Eufemiano Fuentes (Kelme doctor) spoke to the Spanish daily paper As to refute this statement.[40] Fuentes would later emerge as the key figure in the Operación Puerto doping scandal.

December 22, 2000: Virenque was cleared from the criminal charge of "inciting the administration of doping and masking products to others and complicity in the importation of drugs". Voet was given a 10-month suspended sentence and a 30,000 franc fine. Bruno Roussel was given a suspended sentence of one year and a fine of 50,000 francs.[41] Christine Paranier received a 30,000 francs fine (4,573 euros). Her husband Éric received a fine of 10,000 francs (around 1,500 euros). Jef d'Hont received a nine-month suspended sentence and a fine of 20,000 francs (around 3,000 euros). Jean Dalibot and Joel Chabiron received a five-month suspended sentence. Dr. Terrados was given a 30,000 francs fine. The case against Eric Rijckaert was dropped due to his deteriorating health: he died of cancer a month later.[42]

December 30, 2000: Swiss cycling federation gave a nine-month ban to Virenque and a 4,000 Swiss franc fine.[43]


Many books have been written about the Festina affair.

TVM affair

In the French judicial system, the TVM affair treated as an independent court case, though it is often referred to as part of the Festina affair since French police executed the TVM raid, interrogated six TVM riders, held several TVM key staff in custody, and performed additional advanced doping tests during the Festina investigation. After the public prosecutor in Reims had prepared the case, the court arbitration was conducted during 28–31 May 2001, with Cees Priem (TVM manager), Andrei Mikhailov (TVM doctor) and Jan Moors (TVM soigneur) being charged for import, transport and possession of doping/drugs on French soil.

Main events:[44]

TVM trial:[44]


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