Virenque hopes French Senate list includes Festina riders

Frenchman on retrospective testing from 1998 Tour

Richard Virenque hopes that every rider from the 1998 Festina team is included in the French Senate’s list of positive samples from that year's Tour de France.

Speaking after the first mountain stage of this year's Tour, Virenque, who was expelled from the 1998 race after Festina soigneur, Willy Voet, was arrested with doping products, told Cyclingnews that it would be scandal if all nine Festina were not among the positives.

The Tour was marred by the seizure of drugs within Festina, hotel raids, and a raft of teams leaving the race. Marco Pantani was eventual winner of the race but UCI president Pat McQuaid has already gone on record stating that the UCI would consider stripping the late Italian of his crown if he was also among those who tested positive.

The tests are part of a retroactive inquiry carried out by the French Anti-Doping Agency AFLD in 2004. The retroactive testing was part of a French Senate inquiry into the effectiveness of the fight against doping in France.

"There were controls before the start of the 1998 Tour de France and these were all frozen. Fifteen years later I've found out that there were a number of positives. I hope that in the names there are all the Festina riders because if not then it's a scandal because that year we had to leave the race and there were lots of attacks on our team for several years. I got a one-year suspension and they forced me to talk about the truth of doping," Virenque told Cyclingnews.

Despite a number of his teammates immediately admitting to doping after the Festina Affair, Virenque maintained his innocence until a court case in 2000, and even published a defence called “Ma Verité” (My Truth) in the intervening period.

Virenque now works for Eurosport as a commentator but said that his situation was different to that of Laurent Jalabert, another French rider who took part in the 1998 Tour. Jalabert left the race with his Spanish ONCE team during the race but L’Équipe alleged that he was one of the retrospective positives from the race. Jalabert stepped back from his punditry commitments at this year’s Tour following the publication of the L’Équipe article.

"Jalabert is in a difficult situation today but I think it's more of a personal attack on him. It's different to what I went through. I was a rider at the time during the Festina affair and now Jalabert is retired, it's 15 years later," Virenque said.

Virenque was then asked if cycling was now clearer than during his era, to which he responded. "The rules are different now and it's cleaner now. There are concrete rules today and if everyone pays attention to the rules it's possible to ride clean. Cycling is now an example that other sports can look at and it's 15 years ahead of where other sports are."

Asked if would have preferred to ride in today's current peloton or in the 1990s, Virenque said: "I could have been a great rider from any period, as long as I had a number on my back and team to ride for.”
 

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