Drugs and the Tour de France

Drugs and the Tour de France

Ramin Minovi



In 1998, while the Prologue stage of the Tour de France was being run off in Dublin, an apparently trivial incident occurred at the French-Belgian border which exposed the widespread use of performancing-enhancing drugs in professional cycling and almost finished the Tour. Willy Voet, soigneur to the Festina team, was detained by customs officers, with a car boot full of EPO and other drugs on his way to meet the team on their return from Ireland. The resultant fall-out resulted in a string of prosecutions, some of which ended in prison sentences, dozens of sackings, and half-a-dozen self-serving books by managers, soigneurs and riders. Nothing would ever be the same again.

The general public was shocked and horrified – but it shouldn’t have been. From its beginnings the Tour has basked in a climate of tolerance towards doping. It’s probable that at least some of the riders in the early Tours, with their near-500km stages over unsurfaced roads and tracks, used the kinds of drugs that had become commonplace during the extreme endurance competitions of late Victorian times, particularly strychnine, which acted primarily as a painkiller.

In 1924, following their abandon, the Pélissier brothers told Albert Londres that they used a range of drugs (strychnine, cocaine and others) to keep going. Londres wrote up the story for Le Petit Parisien under the title ‘Les Forçats de la Route’ (he was best known for his exposé of France’s monstrous penal colony on Devil’s Island) and shocked the public. The Pélissiers later claimed they’d been pulling Londres’ leg.

High on Speed: amphetamines

The thirties threw up no new dope stories. But the Second World War saw the development of amphetamines, which had been developed for military use and which staved off fatigue and kept aircrew, merchant seamen and submariners awake and alert, if necessary for days. After the war they found a ready market among endurance sportsmen. Fausto Coppi admitted in a TV interview that he used ‘la Bomba’ – there was, he said, no alternative if you wanted to remain competitive; the promising career of Hugo Koblet, winner of the 1951 Tour, was wiped out by massive misuse of drugs. There seems to have been a general agreement that Gino Bartali was probably clean, but who could be certain? For professional cycle racing it would never be glad confident morning again.

Extraordinary as it seems now to many of us, at that time performance-enhancing drugs were not banned, but Pierre Dumas, the Tour doctor throughout the 1950s, was concerned about their effect on the riders’ health. The undoubted fact that riders were using amphetamines wasn’t widely discussed, but Dumas saw plenty of evidence: in 1955 he saved the life of Jean Malléjac when the young French rider collapsed on Mont Ventoux in almost identical circumstances to those which would claim the life of Tom Simpson in 1967. Ferdi Kubler zigzagged across the road, taking 20 minutes to cover the last kilometre. Louison Bobet, writing in 1955, denounced artificial stimulants as dangerous but admitted that his trainer, Raymond le Bert, provided him with a pocket bidon containing ‘unknown substances’. The French called the mysterious potion which riders swallowed during the late stages of a race ‘la topette’. In 1956, following the 14th Stage, the entire Belgian team went down with a mystery illness. Few Tour followers had any doubts about the cause, but it was officially attributed to their having eaten ‘bad fish’ at dinner, an excuse that would resurface from time to time, most notably in 1991.

It’s probable, that the winners of the Tours of 1956, 58, 59 and 60 used amphetamines – after all, no professional cyclist worthy the name would care about the possible risk to his physical and mental health. But the winner of the Tours of 1957, 61, 62, 63 and 64 left no room for doubt. He was Jacques Anquetil, he openly admitted taking amphetamines, and he saw no reason why, as a professional, he shouldn’t ‘prepare himself’ as he saw fit. Anquetil argued that the demands of the Tour made it impossible to ride at all without chemical assistance. It was a claim that did enormous damage to professional cycle sport, by fostering the climate which has continued to the present day, in which normal values are reversed: those who attempt to combat the abuse of drugs are criminals trying to prevent honest workman getting on with their job. It was futile to protest that Anquetil possessed such outstanding athletic gifts that he had no need of chemical aid – if you were a professional cyclist, it was what you did.

At the time few riders openly bragged of their drug abuse as Anquetil did; but later many admitted to using amphetamines and analgesics – Louis Aimar, Anquetil’s team-mate and winner of the 1966 Tour, for instance. When in the 1960 Tour Roger Rivière, descending the Col de Perjuret in the Massif Central, went off the road and fell into a ravine, it was at once apparent that he was using drugs, and had done so throughout his professional career. He had twice broken the Hour Record, and was three times running World Professional Pursuit Champion, 1957 – 59.

The drug found in his jersey pockets, and which he confessed to carrying in his baggage, was palfium, a powerful analgesic, intended to deaden the pain in his leg muscles (it was directly injected, sometimes while riding) but which, it was suggested, had so numbed his fingers that he couldn’t feel the brake levers. It seemed that he also used amphetamines: the year before, Raphael Géminiani, Rivière’s manager, obtained the services of Bobet’s old soigneur Raymond Le Bert for him, but Rivière pooh-poohed the idea: ‘Le Bert’s twenty years out of date,’ he said. ‘His famous little topette would just about get me from the hotel to the start of the stage.’

Le Bert replied: ‘There are practices which I will not allow. Pharmacy frightens me.’ And he went home to Brittany.

In 1962, at Superbagnères, twenty riders fell ill, and again ‘bad fish’ was given as the cause. Clearly, as Pierre Dumas realized at the time, they had all been given the same drug by the same soigneur.

Riders routinely refused tests; few were disqualified or sanctioned and most retained their victories and titles, though Anquetil did have a world hour record turned down. The UCI’s inconsistency in applying their own rules sent the message to riders that the greatest sin was to be found out, and this same inconsistency would cast doubt on any public pronouncements the governing body might make during the next 40 years.

The use of performance-enhancing drugs became illegal on 1st June 1965. The first riders to be caught were three amateurs, two Spanish and one British, who were thrown out of that year’s Milk Race when they tested positive for amphetamines. In July two more amateurs, André Bayssière and Charly Grosskost, collapsed in the Tour de l’Avenir and were banned when they confessed to using amphetamines.

In 1966 the Tour introduced drugs testing. In Bordeaux, following the finish of the 8th Stage, at around 7 p.m., in his hotel room, Raymond Poulidor gave the first-ever urine sample. The riders were furious at this outrage to their dignity and their civil liberties, and the following day they stopped five miles after the start and walked for five minutes in protest. There were no more tests that year.

Everyone knows what happened in 1967. Most of us can remember where we were and what we were doing when we heard the news of Tom Simpson’s death, of heat exhaustion, exacerbated by amphetamines (Tonedron) and alcohol. The reaction was again predictable: the antis called for stringent measures, the professional peloton – riders, managers, soigneurs, agents – and Simpson’s friends and family denied that drugs were even a factor. Several people actually blamed Pierre Dumas, who had tried to save Simpson’s life. Raphael Géminiani said ‘Pierre Dumas made Simpson die’. Anquetil, as stupid and malicious as ever, shook his thick head solemnly and said that this was what came of trying to interfere with professionals who were just doing their job – if less dangerous drugs had been available, like solucamphre (a decongestant), Simpson might not have turned to more dangerous substances. For Anquetil it simply became another part of his personal war on drug testing. A Dr Philippe Decourt, inventor of the amphetamine Ortedrine, also blamed Dumas: ‘Amphetamine did not cause Simpson’s death. He did not receive appropriate care.’ It’s not difficult to see why Decourt would want to make sure someone else was blamed. Simpson’s friends and relatives were equally anxious to deny that amphetamines played a significant part in his death, or even any part at all. But there is no doubt that he took them.

In 1969 Eddy Merckx, in tears, was thrown out of the Giro after a positive test. His sample had been sabotaged, he said, and most people believed him. It may even be true – more extreme measures have been taken in the Giro. In any case Merckx was allowed to start the Tour. He destroyed the field, taking the lead on the sixth stage (one of seven which he won) and winning by nearly 18 minutes.

The 1977 Tour ended in confusion, depression and suspicion: Joop Zoetemelk gave a sample at L’Alpe d’Huez and his positive was announced after the penultimate stage at Versailles. He was penalised and at once a row erupted, led by Raphael Géminiani. ‘If the rules are to be enforced, let them apply to everyone,’ he shouted. Henry Anglade suggested sarcastically that Van Impe, currently third, might not after all have lost the Tour just yet, implying that both race leader Bernard Thévenet and second-placed Kuiper were culpable. People circulated secret lists of those suspected. Two hundred disillusioned journalists waited for an official statement, which finally de-clared Thévenet the winner. Some months later, during the winter of 1978, Thévenet admitted that he had used cortisone. He would never again figure among the leaders of the Tour.

It was widely assumed by now that many riders were using some kind of illicit aid, but it was still a shock when in 1978, having won alone at L’Alpe d’Huez and taken the lead, the Belgian Michel Pollentier was caught trying to cheat the drugs control with someone else’s urine in a rubber bulb in his shorts. He was sent home in disgrace. Pollentier was a genuinely talented rider with a string of impressive victories, including the Giro and the Dauphiné, and had he won the Tour no-one would have been surprised. Ironically his own urine tested negative. He claimed that his own team had denounced him to the drugs authorities, he’d been set up. Thousands of sympathisers wrote to him, but it was effectively the end of what could have been a truly great career, though he did manage to win the 1980 Tour of Flanders.

Testosterone-fuelled: anabolic steroids

Amphetamines continued in use despite there being a simple and effective urine test; but now there were other drugs. During the 1970s Russia and the Soviet bloc countries, anxious to show that their political systems were superior to those of the West, put huge numbers of their athletes on drugs programmes. The Iron Curtain countries used principally anabolic steroids. Allied to heavy resistance training and a high protein diet they could enormously enhance muscle growth in throwers and weightlifters; but they also accelerated recovery in endurance athletes, enabling them to train harder, longer and more frequently. These, and to a lesser extent corticoids, were the drugs that fuelled the professional peloton in the 80s and into the early 90s. Hinault, generally thought to be ‘clean’, withdrew from the 1980 Tour with tendinitis of the knee, because cortisone treatment would have registered a positive drugs test. The only serious scandal of the decade occurred during the 1988 Tour when race leader Pedro Delgado tested positive for probenicid, a diuretic used as a masking agent to flush traces of steroids from the system. The drug was banned by the IOC, but not by the UCI, and he escaped sanction; but the Dutchman Gert-Jan Theunisse tested positive for testosterone and received a ten-minute penalty.

By the late 1980s, in addition to banned substances, most big teams employed recovery techniques the ethics of which might have been questioned. Leading riders were put on a drip during the night while nutrients (e.g. Vitamin B12) were pumped into them in order to have them in good shape at the start line the following day. It was this practice which was blamed when in 1991 the entire PDM team went down with a fever on the 10th Stage. ‘A virus,’ said the manager. ‘Bad fish,’ said the press, knowingly – only the riders were affected. A hospital analysis of one of the riders found not a virus but a bacterium in his blood, and his red cell count was abnormally low. Ten days later, a brief press release, patently a fudge, stated that the team had used recovery substances which were past their sell-by date. A side effect of the increased expertise needed to administer these cures was that most teams began to employ a doctor.

EPO – and the rest

Now a new performance aid made its appearance. Erythropoietin (EPO) had first been synthesised in 1977 (from human urine) as rEPO. EPO is a naturally-occurring hormone which stimulates the bone marrow to produce red blood cells, thus improving the body’s oxygen-transport system, an obvious advantage for an endurance athlete. It was originally intended for the treatment of anaemia sufferers and became commercially available in 1985. By the late 1980s it was in the hands of racing cyclists and was tentatively blamed for the otherwise-unexplained deaths of 18 young cyclists over a short period of time. rEPO could be self-administered with ease (Philippe Gaumont thought nothing of giving himself 150 injections in a year), and it was apparent that too high a level could thicken the blood and cause clotting. Many professional squads already had doctors; now all of them acquired not only doctors but whole medical teams.

The simplest way of expressing red blood cell content is by the ratio of haematocrit, a straight percentage of total blood volume. The average is around 42%, but can be as low as 35% or as high as 48%. Riders habitually boosted themselves to the mid-50s, and Bjarne Riis, winner of the 1996 Tour became known in the peloton as ‘Mr Sixty-percent’. In October 1995 Marco Pantani recorded a haematocrit of 60.1%, about twenty percent higher than his natural level. On one occasion the entire Banesto team tested at 48.5 to 49.5, a situation impossible in nature.

In 1997 the UCI de-clared itself concerned about the riders’ health and fixed a haematocrit limit. There being no scientifically-obtained data on which to decide how much was too much, the figure of 50% was plucked from the air. Mandatory blood tests would measure the level and anyone over the limit would be suspended for 14 days. Every professional team knew at once that its riders had to be close to that limit if they were to remain competitive. The centrifuge, for determining your haematocrit level, became part of the baggage of many riders. There have been protests that ‘many’ people have a level over 50%, but no team or rider has ever produced medical evidence and asked for an exemption. The great majority of riders have to be boosted to near the threshold. A 90-minute warning of a test is enough for a rider to get his haematocrit down to a safe level by water perfusion.

By 1993 several entire teams had season-long programmes of drug injection and were able to win one-day races more or less as they wished, sometimes filling all three podium places. The Gewiss team had been particularly successful in a number of the great classic races, and their doctor Michele Ferrari was surprised that people were shocked when, interviewed on television, he expressed the view that EPO, like orange juice, was safe enough if taken in moderation. He was even more surprised when Gewiss sacked him; but he remained the personal adviser of a number of leading riders, including Tony Rominger, a holder of the world hour record, and Lance Armstrong until 2004.

From 1994 onwards Festina riders routinely took EPO, amphetamines, steroids and human growth hormone, winning Tour stages, podium places and world championships. Cortisone was also widely used, but it was relatively ineffective compared with EPO. Almost anything was worth trying. In the late 1990s Aranesp, a synthetic blood substitute for use in operating theatres, was seized on and became part of the pro team doctor’s kit.

So the decade continued. The great majority of riders boosted their red blood count with EPO, while UCI president Hein Verbruggen de-clared the sport clean and reckoned that only a tiny minority were doping.

Then, in 1998, came the Festina affair. As we’ve seen, Willy Voet, a so-called soigneur but in fact a general dogsbody for the Spanish-sponsored Festina team was caught at the Belgian-French border with a bootful of drugs. He and team manager Bruno Roussel were arrested; the team’s leader and best hope for Tour victory, Richard Virenque wept and screamed ‘We’re clean’, but Festina were forced to withdraw.

The Tour staggered on, every day bringing fresh revelations and more police raids on team hotels. Months earlier TVM’s team car had been arrested by customs in Rheims. Now they were raided and sent home. The leader of the mountains classification, Rodolfo Massi, was caught allegedly dealing. The riders staged sit-down strikes but the Tour went on, somehow. All of this left UCI President Verbruggen, the former Mars-bar brand executive, unfazed: while the Tour teetered on the brink of extinction Verbruggen went on holiday and refused to treat the matter seriously.

Under an icy alpine downpour Marco Pantani destroyed the hopes of Jan Ullrich at Les Deux Alpes and was hailed as the saviour of the Tour. Two days later, on the stage to Aix-les-Bains, the riders staged a stoppage high in the mountains and the stage was de-clared null and void. With no riders well placed on GC, Banesto and ONCE, who looked like the next candidates for a hotel raid by police, withdrew and went home. ‘We’ve stuck our finger up the Tour’s arse,’ said Manolo Saiz, the disgusting manager of ONCE, in a reference to the rubber-glove body searches to which some of the riders had been obliged to submit. The revelations of Operación Puerto in 2006 would confirm that Saiz had for years used a range of drugs with the teams he’d managed.

Most of the nine-man Festina squad admitted their guilt and were banned for eight months. Voet published a book, Massacre à la Chaîne, with pages from his records showing that all the Festina riders had used amphetamines, EPO and human growth hormone (HGH). There were photos: a centrifuge and a device made with a condom, a tube, some tape and a few fake hairs from a carpet, designed to be used rectally in order to supply ‘clean’ urine at the dope control – no more rubber bulbs like the one that had destroyed Pollentier in 1978. Voet admitted to having been the team’s guinea-pig for tests of Clenbuterol, a steroid used to fatten beef cattle, and claimed it was terrific.

For two years Richard Virenque denied that he’d used drugs and then owned up in open court. He, the sport’s biggest liar, even published a book, laughably entitled Ma Verité, My Truth. He, more than any other rider, had poisoned cycle sport; but his belated confession made no difference to his standing with the infatuated French fans, and he would soon be back riding in the Tour and even ‘winning’ stages and two more mountains titles. Roussel too wrote a book, Tour de Vices, in which he claimed that the team was run by Virenque while he, the nominal manager, was little more than the driver. All the riders had paid into a slush fund out of which their drugs were purchased. Now everyone knew two things: Hein Verbruggen was either a fool or a liar, and either way he was wrong. The truth was that every rider (with a few exceptions like Christophe Bassons and David Moncoutié) was taking EPO and other drugs; and no rider could be believed when he claimed to be clean.

The American Way

In 1999 Lance Armstrong was also hailed as a saviour, the ‘clean’ winner of a Tour which could now look forward to a drugs-free future. True, he survived a doping scare when he tested positive for a trace of corticoids; but it was established that this had come from an externally-applied cream.

In 2002 the Lithuanian Raimondas Rumsas astonished Tour followers by finishing third behind Armstrong, at the height of his powers, and Beloki. But while Rumsas was actually standing on the podium in the Champs Elysées his wife was being arrested at the French-Italian border with a boot literally full of performance-enhancing drugs. They were, she said, for her mother, who had cancer. She was to remain locked up in Bonneville for 75 days while her husband refused to meet the authorities to talk about it, provoking an international incident. The Lithuanians saw a conspiracy. They protested that there was no reason to doubt the truth of Mme Rumsas’ story and their ambassador made the trip to Bonneville to demand the release of her countrywoman. Three and a half years later Rumsas and his wife were given four month sentences and fined around £4000. The man who once won a stage in the Prudential Tour of Britain, sank virtually without trace.

2004 was a good year for drugs revelations. First Jesus Manzano, sacked by the powerful Spanish Kelme team, exposed the team’s doping practices. Blood doping was routine but haphazard transfusion controls risked contamination. Manzano said that he put in €3,000 at the start of the Tour de France to cover ‘medication’, and he supposed that the other riders put in the same amount. At the start of Stage 7 he was given ‘a substance that I had not experimented with, taken according to your weight. It is injected into a vein and the unique thing that it does is to keep your haematocrit low but raise your haemoglobin.’ On the Col des Portes Manzano virtually collapsed, crashed, and was picked up by the ambulance. HGH could be taken during training and during competition, ‘because it is undetectable in drug controls.’ It was commonly taken with insulin in order to maximise its effect.

Altitude training camps were used to mask EPO use: ‘If you’re at 46 percent, you’re not going to go up to 50 percent in 15 days.’ Injecting EPO could raise his haematocrit from a natural 42% to 50% and sometimes went as high as 56%. ‘At the moment it’s not difficult to fool the UCI vampires,’ Manzano said. ‘You get half an hour after the medical inspectors turn up and notify you, so the riders with low levels go down first to gain time – the team doctors are always prepared. The riders with the highest values are given human plasma and glucose and go down at the end. These can lower your haematocrit level by four points. Manzano said that the UCI would be better off testing riders at 7 pm and giving them only five minutes to prepare.

It was obvious that Manzano’s accusations were generally true, or at least had the ring of truth, and reaction was predictable. Kelme denied all Manzano’s accusations, accusing him of seeking revenge, the UCI maintained that ’90 percent of riders are clean’, and Hein Verbruggen said that he didn’t believe Manzano. In an open letter to Dick Pound, president of WADA, Lance Armstrong insisted that he and the majority of riders in the peloton were clean.

At about the same time Philippe Gaumont described almost identical practices in the leading French team Cofidis, and a year later would publish a book, Prisonnier du Dopage. Gaumont named five riders, including David Millar, a director and a doctor, all of whom, he said, were complicit in a drug-using and dealing ring. There were the routine denials. Millar denied everything and described Gaumont as ‘a total idiot … a nutter, but very gifted at manipulating people.’

Millar had won the final time-trial in the 2003 Tour, beating Armstrong and Ullrich, and went on to win the World TT championship in Canada. In June 2004 he was arrested by French police who found in his apartment two syringes from the Canadian trip. Millar confessed to using EPO, and was stripped of his TT title. It was now obvious that Millar had lied when, following Gaumont’s original allegations, he had claimed to be innocent.

In June 2004 the French and Irish journalists Pierre Ballester and David Walsh published a book, L.A. Confidentiel, in which they accused Lance Armstrong and his team, US Postal, of using performance-enhancing drugs. The evidence was circumstantial, and Armstrong denied it all and began a litigation process which at the time of writing (March 2007) is still going on.

A reliable test for synthetic EPO had been found before the Sydney Olympics. The likelihood of being caught with rEPO resulted in a return to the more complex practice of blood doping which rEPO had rendered unnecessary. Transfusing the athlete’s, or a donor’s blood to raise the red cell count was a lengthy process and required a laboratory or clinic, elaborate equipment and professional medical skills. Unfortunately, although the athlete’s own blood, re-infused, remains undetectable, a donor’s blood can be identified. Later in 2004 Tyler Hamilton ‘won’ the Olympic Time-Trial, and a fortnight later the Vuelta time-trial. After both he tested positive for donor blood. Unfortunately (or deliberately) the Olympic ‘B’ sample was lost, so he retained his gold medal; but he was not so lucky with the Vuelta samples and was suspended for two years, all the time protesting his innocence with the usual range of excuses.

Now no-one at all, not even Hein Verbruggen, could deny that drug abuse in professional cycling was endemic, widespread, virtually universal, and it was no surprise to anyone when, following his death of a cocaine overdose in 2004, it was revealed that Marco Pantani, the ‘clean saviour’ of the 1998 Tour, had raced on EPO throughout his professional career, sometimes with a haematocrit of 61% against the average of around 42%.

A year later in June 2005 Gaumont published his exposé of drug-taking in the professional peloton, once again to loud denials from his ex-team-mates and many other professional cyclists. Unfortunately his evidence is rather more than circumstantial, and the exposure of Millar and others as liars and cheats lends credibility to his story. No-one could now doubt that over a period of more than ten years the entire Cofidis team (except for David Moncoutié) had raced and trained on a positive pharmacopoeia: corticoids, amphetamines, steroids, human growth hormone, injectable caffeine, EPO.

In September 2005 L’Équipe, using frankly underhanded methods, acquired test results which seem to reveal that Armstrong and other riders had tested positive for EPO at the prologue to the 1999 Tour, the first one which Armstrong won. Taken for scientific purposes, the sampling procedures did not comply with strict testing protocols and the samples could not be used as the basis for a prosecution or disciplinary action. Armstrong flatly denied their validity, but Ballester and Walsh now considered the case against him proved, and in early 2006 they published a new book LA Officiel detailing their evidence against him, all of it circumstantial but very persuasive.

Operación Puerto

In May 2006, in Operación Puerto, Spanish police, presumably acting on information, raided a house in Madrid where they found massive evidence of a highly sophisticated blood doping set-up and arrested Dr Eufemiano Fuentes, a former gynaecologist, blood doper to the stars. Fuentes, known throughout the cycling world as ‘Uti’ had previously been doctor at Las Palmas football club, on the ONCE team managed by Manolo Saiz, and on the Amaya and Kelme squads. Four others including Saiz were arrested. If the unlovely Manolo said anything about arses or fingers, then it wasn’t reported. Police found 195 sachets of blood labelled with dates, numbers and codenames which were linked to 150 cyclists and athletes. Over 50 cyclists were identified, and leading riders on it were refused entry to the Tour: they included the 2005 runner-up, Ivan Basso, Jan Ullrich, and others. Ullrich was sacked by his team. Leading Spanish sponsor Liberty-Seguros at once withdrew their sponsorship, throwing the whole team out of work. The Comunidad Valencia team was thrown out, along with Astaña-Würth, five of whose riders were implicated, leaving the much-fancied Alexandr Vinokourov, who was not on the list, without a Tour ride.

The 2006 Tour de France

The organisers obviously hoped they would be able to proclaim a drugs-free race. Like the Tour of 1956, in the absence of any dominant team or individual, it was a free-for-all. As the Tour reached the Alps Floyd Landis of Phonak emerged as favourite; but the American collapsed disastrously on the climb to the summit finish at La Toussuire and suffered an apparently irrecoverable time loss of ten minutes.

But on the following day, in an astounding reversal of fortune, he was allowed to ride away on his own over a succession of mountain passes and regain enough time to put him in pole position at the start of the final time-trial, where he duly took the lead and held it to Paris. Asked on the podium for his views on the drugs situation, Landis, brought up in the strict Mennonite faith, offered the usual evasive platitudes: ‘I don’t know anything about that … Look, since you won’t stop asking all these questions, it was an unfortunate situation for all of us, and none of us got any satisfaction from the fact that they were not here … It’s up to every child’s parents to explain to them when they watch the race what the best decisions are. That’s how my parents raised me and that’s the best way to go about it.’ Nevertheless, despite this shifty claptrap, Landis was, like Pantani in 1998, the champion who’d won the clean Tour, saved it from disgrace. Cycling Weekly printed ‘All Hail Landis the Hero’ on its cover, a piece of hubris which they might later have regretted.

Because if it looks too good to be true, then it probably is. And less than a week later L’Équipe announced that the American’s sample following his victorious ride to Morzine on Stage 17 had registered positive for testosterone. Landis’ team sacked him at once and Andy Rihs, owner of the team, announced its withdrawal from the sport. And Oscar Pereiro looked set to become the most unlikely winner since Roger Walkowiak in 1956. All we’re waiting for now is the outcome of the American’s appeal.

Prisonnier du Dopage: Philippe Gaumont. Grasset 2005
Tour de Vices: Bruno Roussel. Hachette, 2001
Massacre à la Chaîne: Willy Voet. Éditions J’ai Lu, 1999
De Mon Plein Gré (Of my own free will): Jèrome Chiotti. Calman-Lévy, 2001
La Fabuleuse Histoire du Tour de France: Pierre Chany. 2nd edn, Éditions de la Martinière, 2003
L.A. Confidentiel: Pierre Ballester & David Walsh. Éditions de la Martinière, 2004
L.A. Officiel: Pierre Ballester & David Walsh. Éditions de la Martinière, 2006
Vive le Dopage? Enquête sur un Alibi: Bruno de Lignières & Emmanuel Saint-Martin. Flammarion, 1999