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Memories of Festina 98

I've recently been re-reading Matt Rendell's book on Pantani & a book called 'Conquests and Crises' and was just curious about how people felt as it all unfolded? Were you shocked/in denial/whatever? What was the press reaction and rider interviews?

I know the facts and dates and times etc.. but not really much reaction or opinion from the time. Just interested on how some of the posters here reacted or how much they knew about doping back then? (I was only 8 then, and yet to discover cycling for around another 4 years)

Cheers :eek:
 
Aug 13, 2009
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luckyboy said:
I've recently been re-reading Matt Rendell's book on Pantani & a book called 'Conquests and Crises' and was just curious about how people felt as it all unfolded? Were you shocked/in denial/whatever? What was the press reaction and rider interviews?

I know the facts and dates and times etc.. but not really much reaction or opinion from the time. Just interested on how some of the posters here reacted or how much they knew about doping back then? (I was only 8 then, and yet to discover cycling for around another 4 years)

Cheers :eek:

The key point I remember at the time was why isn't this bigger news? It took about a week or so for it to take hold. I also was not surprised at all.

I found the reaction of the riders interesting. All of a sudden there was a ton of focus on something that the outside world knew was wrong but in the bubble of the sport was widely accepted. The confusion of the teams and riders as to how to address the issue was at times comical. Some were so confused they just packed up and went home.
 
The sit down protests by the riders because of the searches. Strange actions of 'clean' riders. Laurent Jalabert and Riis as the riders' spokesperson. Is it any wonder the sport is and was in the sh**?
The audacity of Virenque's denials also jumped out.
 
I went to see the first few stages in Dublin that year and followed the race closely. I was very dissappointed but not totally shocked at what happened. I had the fortune of reading A Rough Ride by Paul Kimmage at a young age when I first started following cycling. There had also been rumours of EPO usage right throughout the 90s and magazines like Cycle Sport had some interesting articles/interviews on the subject of doping. Two that stand out were an article in 1996 about EPO and the search for a test and the other was an interview with then UCI president Hein Verbruggen in 97 in which he refuted the idea that doping was widespread. Sound familiar.

The thing that did get me was how widespread it was, I thought it was maybe just a few people. I felt cheated because it became obvious that EPO usage had indeed been widepread throughout the 90s, initially I felt that I had wasted 10 years following a sport akin to pro wrestling. I didnt know what to believe anymore but gradually I realised all sports were likely to be just as corrupt and I became very cynical/realsitic about sport in general. Because of this I decided to stick with cycling and have not regretted it even though I have been tempted to forget pro cycling many times.

Amazingly, I am still not as cynical as some people on here which is strange, maybe I am just an eternal optimist. This is why I also tend to believe most stories linking certain cyclists with doping.
 
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When 1998 hit, what I remember thinking is that cycling will finally have really robust testing like track and field had starting in the '90s. Sure enough, cycling now has the most comprehensive testing of any sport.

Not that it has stopped the taking of drugs, but it has definitely reduced the over-the-top risks people were taking. A lot of guys are still dirty, but the number of people taking vast cocktails of banned substances has gotta be pretty low.

My opinion is that anyone surprised by Festina was either not really a fan or was in serious denial. I rode for two years in the early 1980's before turning to running in high school (now I do a bit of both, more slowly). I remained a cycling fan, though. Word was that a few of the top junior cyclists in our area were taking steroids. No one I was racing with was remotely surprised at the blood doping scandal in the 1984 Olympics. They also knew that pros had been taking quite a few things over previous decades in the pre-testing era.

And lest anyone think this is a modern problem, one of the most popular athletic spectacles of the 19th century was the six day walking/running event. At its peak, athletes would win into five figures in US dollars, quite a bit of dough for the time. The biggest reason for its demise was that the taking off various substances like strychnine turned the races into the kind of spectacle people just didn't want to see any more. Nowadays I don't think anyone would care :)
 
egtalbot said:
When 1998 hit, what I remember thinking is that cycling will finally have really robust testing like track and field had starting in the '90s. Sure enough, cycling now has the most comprehensive testing of any sport.

Not that it has stopped the taking of drugs, but it has definitely reduced the over-the-top risks people were taking. A lot of guys are still dirty, but the number of people taking vast cocktails of banned substances has gotta be pretty low.

My opinion is that anyone surprised by Festina was either not really a fan or was in serious denial. I rode for two years in the early 1980's before turning to running in high school (now I do a bit of both, more slowly). I remained a cycling fan, though. Word was that a few of the top junior cyclists in our area were taking steroids. No one I was racing with was remotely surprised at the blood doping scandal in the 1984 Olympics. They also knew that pros had been taking quite a few things over previous decades in the pre-testing era.

And lest anyone think this is a modern problem, one of the most popular athletic spectacles of the 19th century was the six day walking/running event. At its peak, athletes would win into five figures in US dollars, quite a bit of dough for the time. The biggest reason for its demise was that the taking off various substances like strychnine turned the races into the kind of spectacle people just didn't want to see any more. Nowadays I don't think anyone would care :)


To be fair, even Paul Kimmage has admitted to being shocked at Festina. He didn't realise how bad it was until then. My point being, apparently he'd had reason to believe things had improved since his time.
 
I was on a cycling trip in France at the time, and had ridden over the Col Revard the day before the protest--I think they stopped on the Revard to protest.

I recall being the most shocked that Jalabert, who most considered at the time one of the dirtiest riders out there, was the spokesman for at least a huge percentage of the riders. While we all knew that the sport had big problems with doping, the level of rider support to defend it was shocking to me. The denial and the resistance to anyone challenging their insular world was a huge eye-opener.
 
Mar 18, 2009
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I was in Cholet, at the Festina/Saeco hotel, when they arrested Bruno Roussell. You have to remember how huge Festina were in France - they were the number one team, Virenque had ridden the prologue of his life and looked more of a GC contender than ever (we're all cynics now but then how many climbers have remarkably morphed into TTers post Festina?), Brochard was world champion, and that hotel was mobbed by fans of all ages. I still have a page of Equipe with Virenque, Brochard, Stephens and Cipollini's signatures.

Was I shocked when I picked up Equipe the next day and saw what was happening - that Roussel was in custody, that the fate of the team hung in the balance? No, not really. If you're a long standing fan of the sport you know what goes on and you choose your response to it. I chose to love the Festina team for their panache, for their amazing Tour the year before - the way they lit up the race, the epic mountain stages, the way they almost overhauled Ullrich at the last, and how many stages - 4? 5? But when they turned up on the start line with their bleached blonde hair you knew they were sticking two fingers up at the testers (the belief being that bleached hair samples wouldn't return positive results).

But I wonder what Telekom were bringing into the race that year - or Pantani - or any of the other teams. My reaction to the exclusion of Festina was one of anger at the UCI for their hypocrisy, particularly as it became ever more clear over the subsequent years that Festina were simply a scapegoat and were paying for the sins of all - much as Pantani did.

But I'll never forget the thrill of being inches away from that team and those riders that evening, the buzz in the crowd, the sense of anticipation.
 
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This was during my latter high school years when my passion for cycling was on the rise. Being a n00b at the time I admit I was pretty shocked, but riding with older elites I began to realize that their charges of "so and so must be on the sauce" were for real and not as sarcastic as I had thought.

The years that followed came as no surprise however. I guess I just didn't realize it was everyone who was doing the stuff.

In all honesty, it actually made me like it a bit more since there was a dark side and drama about the whole scene.
 
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I think the main thing that surprised me at the time was the way that Phil Ligett and Paul Sherwin were so heavily on the riders' side - particularly during the protests. They initially seemed disbelieving about what was happening (like the rest of us really so fair enough there) but then they were acting as though the French police were some sort of anti-cycling hit squad.

I was young then and I have since come to realise that Ligett is happy to have the cheats not turn up to events but that he believes that anyone in a race is clean and is being persecuted unfairly.

The other thing for me is that I cannot believe that Neil Stephens was clean. I don't think he ever admitted doping did he?
 
Jul 2, 2009
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Stephens, 36, had his professional debut in 1984 with the English ANC team and moved on from there to eventually ride for Spanish teams ONCE and Festina, where he finished his career. He was well known as a domestique in these teams, and did win a stage in the Tour in 1997. His retirement wasn't completely rosy however, coming at the end of the Festina affair, although he was one of the riders who maintained his innocence.

http://autobus.cyclingnews.com/results/2000/jul00/jul12news.shtml
 
Martin318is said:
I think the main thing that surprised me at the time was the way that Phil Ligett and Paul Sherwin were so heavily on the riders' side - particularly during the protests. They initially seemed disbelieving about what was happening (like the rest of us really so fair enough there) but then they were acting as though the French police were some sort of anti-cycling hit squad.

I was young then and I have since come to realise that Ligett is happy to have the cheats not turn up to events but that he believes that anyone in a race is clean and is being persecuted unfairly.

The other thing for me is that I cannot believe that Neil Stephens was clean. I don't think he ever admitted doping did he?

Come on, Willy Voet said everyone on Festina was doping other than Bassons and some of the younger guys like Halgand, Lefevre who were not involved in the heavy stuff. Stephens never admitted to anything. Wonder why?
 
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When I read that the other teams were protesting the punishment of cheaters caught red-handed I was shocked. I don't know of any other sport in which the cheaters were supported by protests of those who were not caught cheating.

It was a sad time for cycling.

The sport has made many efforts to clean itself up since then. Though many who post on this site still criticize the efforts of the governing bodies, they should be applauded for improving the image of cycling.
 

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David Suro said:
When I read that the other teams were protesting the punishment of cheaters caught red-handed I was shocked. I don't know of any other sport in which the cheaters were supported by protests of those who were not caught cheating.

It was a sad time for cycling.

The sport has made many efforts to clean itself up since then. Though many who post on this site still criticize the efforts of the governing bodies, they should be applauded for improving the image of cycling.
What has changed since 1998?

According to BikePure 52 riders have been caught for PED abuse this year - while some may say that reflects better detection methods - what it actually shows is the show goes on the same as always.
While the riders may get caught and punished the infastructure - like it was in 1998 - remains largely the same.

Like 98 - the UCI has chosen to ignore the problem - how confident would you feel if there were was another investigation like Festina?

Pro Cycling had an oppurtunity in 98 to rid its past and restore its credibility -the current 'image' of Pro Cycling has not been improved - it has been altered and like 98 would not stand the scrutiny a Police Investigation would bring.
 
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Since 1998 the frequency of testing has increased, as has the requirement for riders to be tested out of season. I agree that there is still doping in the sport and believe that there always will be, but the image portrayed to the casual fan is that of a cleaner sport.

The 2009 Tour is a good example. No riders were excluded from the race because of poaitive doping controls. This is an improvement in image. People watching the Tour may not have had the most exciting race ever, but they did have a race without a doping controversy.

I see that as an improvement.
 
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The UCI started it's 'fight against doping' in 1995 with a budget of 1.8 million francs (the total UCI budget was 225 million at the time - massive commitment there, then). Dope testing was done through capillary testing (funny that Verbruggen's big buddy Pharmstrong didn't know that when he kicked off about having his hair tested).

Verbruggen was an ex-Mars executive known for making pronouncements such as 'I can get any rider of yours tested positive if I want to' (to Bruno Roussell). He was trying to sell the TV rights to the Tour, even though he didn't own them and he took a substantial payment to allow the Keirin in the Olympics. He was heavily implicated in the Festina scandal for having bent the rules, allowed a backdated TUE for Brochard after his Worlds win etc. And this is the man who is still very much the power behind the throne at the UCI, speaking through his inept mouthpiece McQuaid. So forgive me if I don't take it seriously that the sport has cleaned up its act. Whilst riders like VDB are hung out to dry and left to die lonely deaths in farflung hotel rooms whilst teams like GeriShack and Columbia with their dirty DSes and dodgy doctors are allowed to do exactly as they please depending on the size of their 'donations' then the sport will never and can never be 'clean'.
 
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i thnki what we can see if the people that control the teams still don't care about the health of the riders and will give them anything if it means they get a race win
 
David Suro said:
The 2009 Tour is a good example. No riders were excluded from the race because of poaitive doping controls. This is an improvement in image. People watching the Tour may not have had the most exciting race ever, but they did have a race without a doping controversy.

I see that as an improvement.

I see that as covering up and denial (not aimed at you btw)

The 'improvement' is only skin deep. The UCI is the problem - riders will always dope if the governing body turn a blind eye (with regards to, amongst other things, the limits for the amount of products found in tests being too large [e.g. microdosing and that]). Nothing will happen while the UCI is run my McQuaid (Verbruggen) is still in charge.

Every day in the last week of the Tour, I woke up hoping that someone had been caught. I would seriously be very happy if there were police raids at next year's Tour. Somebody has to do something.
 
Festina craziness! I was a junior racer back in 1998, convinced like my best friend that it would be our turn to ride the Tour in a few years time. We weren't fans in the same way as now because we only wanted to ride our bikes and then go to the pub to try to meet girls. Lol happy days. But Festina was one that made you stop and think. We knew the rumours before and in some ways it seemed great that it came out: Festina was so huge that it seemed impossible to sweep away, there HAD to be proper change and by the time WE were pro's it would all have been cleared up... I bet 17yo cyclists still believe that today as well! It definitely made us more cynical, but there was a dark glamour to it as well... a new side of the sport that was interesting. We would joke about what substances we were using, and did actually try a few (all a lot less effective that EPO!) I don't remember ever feeling 'let down' by the riders; we'd heard the rumours that 'it's what you have to do to be a pro' so there was no reason to hate our heroes.
 
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luckyboy said:
I've recently been re-reading Matt Rendell's book on Pantani & a book called 'Conquests and Crises' and was just curious about how people felt as it all unfolded? Were you shocked/in denial/whatever? What was the press reaction and rider interviews?

I know the facts and dates and times etc.. but not really much reaction or opinion from the time. Just interested on how some of the posters here reacted or how much they knew about doping back then? (I was only 8 then, and yet to discover cycling for around another 4 years)

Cheers :eek:

I was shocked and fairly disheartened by the whole affair. At the time the completion of the 98 tour itself was in question. I was a bike courier at the time and the news was hitting the front page of the sports section so there was a definite expression of trickle-down antipathy as I recall. For a bit, I remember being slightly ashamed to be associated with a sport that had such a bad image, until I realized their actions had absolutely no reflection on me, my conduct or dedication to my sport. I never wore any team gear before or after- and I am happier to retain that disassociatiation especially when doping scandals become uncovered.
 
I would definitely recommend anyone and everyone read Willy Voet's book, Breaking the Chain. It tells the whole story.

I too was only surprised by how widespread it was, and it was strange when Jalabert quit, even though he hadn't been accused of anything, or even had his name mentioned in anything - all during a year he was focusing entirely on the Tour, in his prime, and his best chance at possibly winning it.

Here's a YouTube video to the 1998 Romandie, which was an doping testing ground of sorts for Festina that year. Dufaux was climbing so fast in that race he would jam on the brakes going around corners.
 
Mar 18, 2009
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Alpe d'Huez said:
I would definitely recommend anyone and everyone read Willy Voet's book, Breaking the Chain. It tells the whole story.

I too was only surprised by how widespread it was, and it was strange when Jalabert quit, even though he hadn't been accused of anything, or even had his name mentioned in anything - all during a year he was focusing entirely on the Tour, in his prime, and his best chance at possibly winning it.

Here's a YouTube video to the 1998 Romandie, which was an doping testing ground of sorts for Festina that year. Dufaux was climbing so fast in that race he would jam on the brakes going around corners.

If I recall correctly, that was the race where Roussel decided "how about we try this new 'oxyglobin' thing?". The results are plain to see :D