The top three podium finishers at the 1998 Tour de France took EPO during the race, according to a report published by French daily Le Monde on Tuesday. Italian Marco Pantani, Germany's Jan Ullrich, and American Bobby Julich were named along with German sprinter Erik Zabel, who won the green jersey for the best sprinter that year.
All three named athletes have previously been identified as dopers. Julich admitted to taking performance-enhancing drugs in 2012 and resigned from Team Sky, saying that during the 1998 Tour de France his wife confronted him about his behavior. After years of silence and cryptic comments, Ullrich came clean about his use of PEDs earlier this year. And Pantani, one of the greatest climbers in cycling's history, has long been associated with doping, dating back to his disqualification at the 1999 Giro d'Italia for an hematocrit reading above 52 percent, a sign of EPO or blood doping.
While Le Monde's report jives with accounts about Pantani, Ullrich, and Julich's past, it contradicts a 2007 statement made by Zabel, who confessed to taking EPO for the 1996 Tour de France. Contrary to the latest report, he had claimed to have tried doping for only a week, stopping due to side effects.
Since May, a debate has raged over the release of the names. The family of Pantani, who died in 2004, has come out strongly against naming riders. Last Friday, the professional cyclists' association also came out against publication.
“Publication of a list amounts … to an accusation of doping without any means of defense,” the CPS said, arguing that no counter-analysis was possible as the original samples no longer existed.
The release comes a day before the French Senate is set to release the full list of riders flagged as positive for EPO in retroactive tests from the 1998 Tour. A full dossier of more than 40 names is expected Wednesday.