After constant denial of any involvement with doping, French rider Richard Virenque has finally admitted to taking the performance enhancing drug EPO.
Even after all his Festina team mates admitted to taking the drug – as well as others – after the team soigneur (masseur and nutritionalist) Willy Voet was stopped on the French border with a team car full of drugs during the 1999 Tour De France (from which the entire team were expelled), team leader Virenque denied any of the doping accusations.
However he broke down on trial yesterday, after Voets and then Festina team director Bruno Roussel admitted to administering drugs to Virenque and others from 1993 “because the riders increasingly demanded it and they were putting more and more pressure on us.” When asked if Virenque could have been doped without his knowledge, Roussel responded, “Absolutely not, he was the first to apply the pressure.” He said, “We’ve got to have this product (EPO). The Italians already have it.”
As soon as he took the stand Yesterday, Virenque was asked directly by Judge Delegove whether he had used drugs and doping, to which he responded “Oui”. He then continued “It was a like a train going away from me and, if I didn’t get on it, I would be left behind. It was not cheating. I wanted to remain in the family.” “We don’t say doping. We say we’re preparing for the race,” Virenque expanded. “To take drugs is to cheat. As long as the person doesn’t test positive, they’re not taking drugs.” Go figure.
This curious twisted logic casts an even longer shadow across pro cycling. Lance Armstrong’s name has yet again been brought up by the dirt digging French after Christophe Bassons – who quit the tour after going public about the level of doping in 1999 – testified. “Armstrong said that I was very bad for cycling. He said I had better go home and that I had nothing to do on a bike.” Former Festina trainer (and Basson’s patron) Antoine Vayer added: “Armstrong rides at an average speed of 54kph. I find this scandalous. It’s a nonsense. Indirectly, it proves he is on dope,”.
As Virenque is actually charged – together with Voets and Roussel – with “complicity in facilitating and inciting the use of doping,” but not with taking drugs, the outcome of the trial is still uncertain, but he is currently without a team. “I’m unemployed now and I’m glad.” he is reported to have said to the newly reconciled Willy Voets but he still faces a 6 – 12 month ban and a possible two years in prison if found guilty of the incitement charges against him.