The Biggest TdF Scandals: 1998—The Festina Affair

Forget about the Lance Armstrong. These ten scandals rocked cycling to its core.

Richard Virenque would go on to

Richard Virenque would go on to stand trial in 2000 for his role in the Festina Affair.     Photo: Numerius/Flickr

While doping had been an omnipresent seamy underside of the Tour since its first days, the tawdry ugliness of banned performance enhancing drugs exploded into the spotlight on a grand scale in 1998. The scandal known as the Festina Affair began when an employee of the Festina team, Willy Voet, was arrested by police three days before the Tour at the Belgian-French border.

A search of Voet’s car turned up EPO, banned steroids, syringes and other doping-related products and paraphernalia. Eventually, Festina’s team director, team doctor and nine of its riders were all arrested. Under questioning, the doctor, Bruno Roussel, admitted Festina operated a systematic doping operation. French police, suspecting doping wasn’t limited only to Festina, conducted raids on other teams throughout the Tour.

The raids incensed the racers, who felt they were being treated as criminals, and tensions reached a height on stage 17. First, the peloton held a sit-down strike at the start of the stage. Once on the road riders agreed not to race and dawdled along at a slow tempo. Stopping again, riders threatened to withdraw from the race en masse. Finally, they walked across the finish line in Aix-les-Bains and the day’s stage was nullified. By day’s end, French national champion Laurent Jalabert and all of the race’s Spanish teams had quit. Of the 189 starters, just 96 finished in Paris on August 2.

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