On the front line as the sling rumbles among the riders of the 1998 Tour de France, Laurent Jalabert and Once decide to leave the Grande Boucle on July 29 along with the three other Spanish teams. Consequence of a police custody of the TVM runners the previous night.
Laurent Jalabert has rarely been at the party during the French Championships. Difficult for him to fight, alone or almost, against the French teams. The Once rider nevertheless won the grail in June 1998 and was happy to wear the blue-white-red jersey on the roads of the Tour de France. However, his happiness was ruined.
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“I was happy to do the Tour with this jersey, especially since I was walking well. But events have made it a pleasure for no one. It was not at all what I had imagined, he said at the start of the summer in Ouest-France in reference to the doping cases which had undermined the Grande Boucle and led to the exclusion of the Festina team then the withdrawals of Banesto or Once. It’s a regret yes… The atmosphere was really special. Under these conditions, the jersey, tricolor or not, does not change anything. The race was so unimportant compared to everything else… It didn’t matter what color the jersey was, the fun wasn’t there. »
The scandal had started even before the start of the Tour de France when Willy Voet, a trainer for the Festina team, was arrested by French customs at the wheel of his car with, in the trunk, more than four hundred bottles of doping products and narcotics (235 ampoules of EPO, 120 capsules of amphetamines, 82 solutions of growth hormone, 60 vials of testosterone and corticosteroids). During the 7e stage, the Festina formation, headed by Richard Virenque, is excluded from the Tour.
We are treated with no respect
But the doping business does not stop there. The riders of the Dutch TVM team were thus taken into custody on the night between the 16e and 17e step after the discovery of doping products in a team vehicle during the previous rest day, provoking the anger of the peloton. The riders decide the next day to strike, leading to the cancellation of the stage. Symbolically, the peloton crossed the finish line in Aix-les-Bains, with four TVM riders on the front line.
And if Jeroen Blijlevens, the TVM sprinter, seems to be behind the strike, the ONCE formation with Laurent Jalabert as leader is in the front line. “We are treated without the slightest respect and we are not able to react. Since we have been unable to do anything, it is because we are nothing. Today, we will once again prove that we are incapable of taking our responsibilities.”thunders Manolo Saint, the team manager. “At Tarascon, he said, I wanted to speak and I found myself like an idiot. I was barely followed. It’s a little late to stop everything. it would be unfair to Pantani, Ullrich” engages Laurent Jalabert.
I no longer want to continue in these conditions
However, while the start could finally be given normally, the Mazamétain was among the first to stop and pick up his bib on the shores of Lake Annecy, imitated shortly after by Marco Pantani. And if the rest of the peloton finally hits the road, the ONCE decides to leave the Tour de France, then imitated by the three other Spanish teams, including the Banesto, or Luc Leblanc, heard by the police in the evening.
“I no longer want to continue in these conditions. I’m sick of the constant suspicion. And it is not by driving at 20 km/h that we will be heard and change something. Some are affected by this problem, others do not understand anything. For them, it’s like a day off. We had opportunities to be heard, we did not seize them. I am leaving. It’s up to others to take their responsibilities.” he confided, adding: “You have to understand that some are not free in their decision. Me, I am lucky to be understood by my sponsor and my sports director.
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If the Tour de France will finally come to an end, crowning Marco Pantani, most of the riders of this edition will finally be convinced of doping at EPO, the senatorial commission of inquiry set up on the effectiveness of the fight against doping publishes a report in July 2013 including the list of runners retrospectively tested positive for EPO. A list in which appeared Laurent Jalabert.