The 2018 Tour de France is now in full swing but 20 years ago the race was on its knees and almost failed to reach Paris due to the Festina Affair. The trauma opened up cycling’s underworld of doping and widespread cheating, with riders arrested, teams searched and several strikes disrupting the race. Festina were sent home in disgrace but as the race disintegrated even further, ethical, legal and moral boundaries were stretched to breaking point. The race was won by the late Marco Pantani but the action was overshadowed by doping that stretched throughout the peloton.
Twenty years on and we sit down with one of cycling’s most experienced journalists, William Fotheringham, who was there in 1998 to capture the entire experience first-hand. Fotheringham discusses how the whole saga snowballed from the moment Festina soigneur Willy Voet was arrested at customs to how the race organisers were unable to keep pace with the authorities as the clampdown on doping began.
This of course all happened in an age before social media, and Fotheringham gives a fascinating insight into how a number of parties, not least the media, wrestled with the ever-changing landscape and narrative.
Fotheringham, interviewed by Cyclingnews’ Daniel Benson, also talks about the generation of riders who came through those times and helped to change the sport but also revisits cycling’s darkest times, the wild west and the casual criminality in which the sport often operated.
We also discuss how much has cycling changed since those days and what lessons can the sport still learn, while there are brief cameo interviews with several riders who took part in the race.
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