The 1998 Tour de France exploded when Willy Voet was caught at a French frontier post with a clearly marked Festina team car full of performance enhancing drugs. Later French darling Richard Virenque admitted that he used performance enhancing drugs using the same logic that Lance Armstrong used, "It was merely preparation for the race," and "If you don't test positive you are not cheating." But what is even more interesting is this statement written by Olivier Hamoir In Lille in his article, Virenque:'I took Drugs, I had no Choice'.
Later in the day the trial took another turn when the former Festina trainer Antoine Vayer cast doubt over the current Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong, who celebrated his second victory in succession this year. Vayer testified under oath: "Armstrong rides at an average speed of 54kph. I find this scandalous. It's a nonsense." Then Frenchman Christophe Bassons, known as the only Festina rider to refuse doping, said Armstrong had forced him to leave the 1999 Tour. "Last year during a stage, Armstrong came to me and told me I was doing a lot of harm to cycling," Bassons said. "He [Armstrong] told me I had better go home." Bassons withdrew and did not take part in the event this year.An entire book could be written on the 1998 Tour de France, the most organized and systematic doping conspiracy in cycling. There were police raids on cycling team hotels, riders laid down their bicycles and refused to ride, teams packed up their equipment and went home. Team TVM riders tested positive for performance enhancing drugs.
There Were No Tests.
Making things very complicated, if not impossible to draw a reasonable conclusion as to whether the U.S. Postal Service Team used drugs previous to the 1999 Tour de France, but there are suggestions. According to Neal Rogers in Old Doping Accusations Lead to Altercation:
In 2001 [Prentice] Steffen told Irish reporter David Walsh that in 1996 U.S. Postal riders [Marty] Jemison and Tyler Hamilton had approached him during the Tour of Switzerland looking for information about illegal doping products. Steffen said he reported the incident to then-director Mark Gorski, and at the end of that year his contract with the team was not renewed.
Update: Emma O'Reilly stated in her deposition that she was unaware of any conclusive proof of doping going on with the 1996 U.S. Postal Service team although Tyler Hamilton and Marty Jemison were accused of complaining to team doctor Prentice Steffen about the lack of access to illegal substances that would increase performance and speed recovery. However, if Emma O'Reilly can be believed, an open and systematic program of doping did exist on the 1997 U.S. Postal Service Professional Cycling Team and probably continued in 1998.
This query was of an investigatory nature, a rider drawn at random from the 1998 Tour de France U.S. Postal Service team rider roster to see if there was a possible link to doping. Eureka! An accusation, but no proof.
So interesting developments occur in the most surprising places and more investigations may lead to further links to doping, but alas one has to question Tyler Hamilton when he told Jim Rome that he told USADA all he knew about doping. All? Does all include doping on the U.S. Postal Service team prior to the 1999 Tour de France? Would Tyler Hamilton answer honestly if asked the question: Did you and Marty Jemison ask Prentice Steffen where to procure performance enhancing drugs in 1996? Would Tyler Hamilton answer the question honestly if asked: Did Frankie Andreu use performance enhancing drugs prior to the 1999 Tour de France?
Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics
If you were to use some simplified statistical comparison between the 1998 Tour de France and the 1999 Tour de France you would find little if any statistical significance in the performance of the riders with one exception: Tyler Hamilton who finished the 1998 Tour in fifty first place at 1 hour 39 minutes 53 seconds behind Marco Pantani, but who in 1999 finished thirteenth at 26 minutes 53 seconds behind Lance Armstrong. For the other riders who participated in the 1998 and 1999 Tours de France doped or not there is little improvement in performance: Frankie Andreu who admitted to using EPO in the 1999 Tour de France, 1998 finish, fifty eighth: 1 hour 53 minutes 44 seconds; 1999 finish, sixty fifth: 1 hour 59 minutes 1 second. George Hincapie showed no improvement either. One might conclude from this astonishing data that Frankie Andreu and George Hincapie unexpectedly had superior performance riding clean than riding doped, contrary to the conclusion of common sense. Of course, this is a bogus conclusion of anti doping crusader proportions, considering complicated variables such as the length of the Tour, the difference in mountain stages, and the most important variable of all, was Marco Pantani riding with or without dope? But when, if ever, has the nay sayers and accusers ever for one second considered all of the variables before making accusations? Never?
Has the Issue of U.S. Postal Doping Previous to Lance Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel Been Resolved?
Emma O' Reilly says there was a program of performance enhancing substance use in place as far back as 1997. Frankie Andreu may have deceived more than his wife with an improbable declaration of innocence, but he has no incentive to come clean and admit his complicity in doping previous to 1999; because he has more to gain from press declarations of him as a vindicated victim. Of course, there is no need to mention the fact that his wife Betsy thrives on her role as the wrongly accused insulted woman. USADA has no incentive because there would be more cobwebs to clean out of closets, more non-analytical positives, further suspensions, and destroyed delusions. USADA has a vested interest in confusing the public interest by maintaining the myth that Frankie Andreu, Tyler Hamilton, and George Hincapie were clean, so clean, prior to 1999. Of what interest to anyone would it be to accept the fact that the bully was not forcing anyone to do what they had been doing all along, doping and cheating to gain an advantage and survive? As Richard Virenque said, "I took drugs, I had no choice," not post Lance Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel, but during the 1998 Tour de France. If this logic applied to Richard Virenque why not this mindset for the entire peloton? Where was the thermos bottle of EPO and the Rolex watches during the 1998 Tour de France? Or were Rolex watches only purchased for EPO toting motorcyclists by teams who won the Tour de France?