Cyclists Pantani, Ullrich unveiled as EPO cheats by French drugs commission

Pantani, who died of a cocaine overdose in 2004, won the controversial 1998 race, with Ullrich taking second place.


Afp July 24, 2013
Tour de France winner Marco Pantani (C) of Italy, second placed Jan Ullrich (L) of Germany and third placed Bobby Julich of the U.S. Celebrate on the victory podium following the 147.5-km 21st and final stage of the Tour de France cycling race of the Tour de France cycling race which ends on the Champs-Elysees Avenue in Paris in this August 2, 1998 picture. PHOTO: REUTERS.

PARIS: Cyclists Marco Pantani from Italy and Jan Ullrich from Germany both used the banned blood-booster erythropoetin (EPO) during the 1998 Tour de France, a damning French parliamentary commission report announced on Wednesday.

Pantani, who died of a cocaine overdose in 2004, won the controversial 1998 race, with Ullrich taking second place.

The findings, which serve as concrete proof of cycling's dark past, identified a host of other EPO cheats, including top sprinters Erik Zabel of Germany and Italian Mario Cipollini.

Others to be named and shamed on Wednesday were Italians Andrea Tafi, Nicolas Minali, Fabio Sacchi, Spanish world champion Abraham Olano and his compatriots Marcos Serrano and Manuel Beltran, German Jens Heppner and Dutch rider Jeroen Blijlevens. A trio of French riders were also found to have doped with EPO in the 1998 Tour - Laurent Jalabert, Jacky Durand and Laurent Desbiens, the commission's report revealed.

Denmark's Bo Hamburger and American Kevin Livingstone also resorted to the performance enhancer in 1998 and 1999.

The report tells of a time when EPO was the illegal fuel propelling the peloton - no reliable test for the banned substance became available until 2001.

The commission, though, found no hard evidence that American Bobby Julich, who was third, also used EPO, as Le Monde newspaper had reported Tuesday.

The French senators claim that doping is "a persistent problem...throughout the history of sport. where the presence of a code of silence is a complex factor".

Among their proposals to combat drug taking are the setting up of a "truth and reconciliation" commission, beefing up the power of the French anti-doping aqency, handing over dope testing to national agencies rather than each sport's international federation, and improved sharing of information between the different agencies involved in combating doping.

Wednesday's findings were based on comparisons made of retrospective testing results from 2004 and a list of samples from the 1998 Tour de France and the 1999 race won by disgraced US rider Lance Armstrong.

The commission compared the results from the anonymous samples from 2004 to named samples taken from the two Tours under scrutiny.

Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour wins and banned from cycling for life last year for doping in a scandal that plunged cycling into crisis about the extent of substance abuse among the peloton.

In May, Jalabert was identified as a doper and he immediately stepped down as a television and radio pundit for this year's Tour that was won last Sunday by British rider Chris Froome.

Since then, there has been debate in France about the utility of naming names, with the family of Pantani saying they were against identifying riders.

The professional cyclists' union the CPA last Friday said that it, too, was opposed to publication.

"Publication of a list amounts... to an accusation of doping without any means of defence," the union said, arguing that no counter-analysis was possible as the original samples no longer existed.

Pantani, who won both the Tour of Italy and Tour de France in 1998, never tested positive throughout his career, although he was expelled from the 1999 Giro due to irregular blood levels.

Ullrich, for his part, held his hands up to doping in June.

The commission questioned 84 witnesses under oath, from sportsmen and women to organisers and anti-doping experts, to "lift the lid" on and "break the code of silence" over the subject.

Cycling, with its doping-scarred past, has not been the only focus, however, with attention also paid in particular to rugby.

The French anti-doping agency assessed that the sport was the most affected by doping in relation to its testing, while football and tennis were also examined.

France football coach Didier Deschamps was questioned behind closed doors while tennis came under the scanner for its relative lack of testing at an international level.

The senators are aiming to frame legislation on sport and put it before parliament for debate next year.

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