Drug-taking in cycling predates the Tour de France. "It existed, it has always existed," said the French reporter and author, Pierre Chany, who followed 49 Tours before his death in 1996. The exhaustion of six-day races on the track was countered by the riders' soigneurs (the French word for "carer"), helpers akin to seconds in boxing. Among the treatments they supplied was nitroglycerine, a drug used to stimulate the heart after cardiac attacks and which was credited with improving riders' breathing. Riders suffered hallucinations from the exhaustion and perhaps the drugs. The American champion Major Taylor refused to continue the New York race, saying: "I cannot go on with safety, for there is a man chasing me around the ring with a knife in his hand.
Public reaction turned against such trials, whether individual races or in teams of two. One report chided:
The American specialist in doping, Max M. Novich, wrote: "Trainers of the old school who supplied treatments which had cocaine as their base declared with assurance that a rider tired by a six-day race would get his second breath after absorbing these mixtures. John Hoberman, a professor at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas, said six-day races were "de facto experiments investigating the physiology of stress as well as the substances that might alleviate exhaustion.
In 1960 Pierre Dumas walked into a hotel bedroom on his nightly tour of teams to find the Italian, Gastone Nencini, prone on his bed with a plastic tube running from each arm to a bottle of blood. Nencini was following a routine which Scandinavian runners were supposed to have followed 30 years earlier, to increase the number of corpuscles that carry oxygen to the muscles. In 1972, Dr Björn Ekblom of the Sport and Gymnastics Institute in Stockholm found that retransfusing cells from a litre of blood increased oxygen uptake by nine per cent and athletic potential by 23 per cent.
When other drugs became detectable, riders began achieving the effects of transfusion more effectively by using erythropoietin, known as EPO, a drug to increase red-cell production in anaemia sufferers. EPO became widespread, as a flurry of exposures and confessions revealed in 2006 and 2007. "When I saw riders with fat arses climbing cols like aeroplanes, I understood what was happening," said the Colombian rider, Luis Herrera.
EPO's problem for testers was that like testosterone and, before that, cortisone, they couldn't distinguish it from what the body produced naturally. For the first time, said Jean-Pierre de Mondenard, authorities had to settle not for the presence of a drug but its presence in unusual quantities. Testers set a haematocrit limit of 50 per cent and "rested" riders who exceeded it. Bjarne Riis, the Danish rider who won the Tour in 1996, was known as "Mr 60 per cent" among riders. On May 25, 2007, he admitted he had used EPO from 1993 to 1998, including 1996 when he won the Tour.
The first backers of races on the road were newspapers. Although Le Vélocipède Illustré, which was behind the world's first long-distance road race in November 1869, said its purpose was "to further the good cause of the bicycle" because "it must be determined that the bicycle can be raced over considerable distances with incomparably less fatigue than running", it can't have escaped the circulation department that the race would do the newspaper's sales a lot of good as well. In an era before radio and television, newspapers could build the drama of a race for weeks, rely on customers buying a further copy on the day to prepare for the riders to pass and then another next day to see what had become of them. Few people had travelled 130km, at least not often, and the idea of doing it by bicycle and at as high a speed as possible when the roads were potholed and bicycles had wooden wheels and metal tyres was exciting.
The result was that newspapers outdid each other in promotions. In 1891, came a race from Bordeaux to Paris. In the same year, Le Petit Journal went twice as far by running Paris-Brest-Paris over 1,200km. The whole lot was topped, deliberately, during a meeting at L'Auto in Paris in when a journalist called Géo Lefèvre suggested a race right round France, not just one day but six, "like the six-day races on the track." The idea of bringing the excess of the indoors to the roads of the outdoors was born. And with it came the practices which had seen riders through their suffering.
In the eyes of a German observer:
Max Novich referred to the Tour de France in the New York State Journal of Medicine as "a cycling nightmare".
The strongest drug in the early Tour de France was strychnine, which in small doses tightened tired muscles. It was also supposed to restore some degree of freshness, which is what Charles Lucas hoped when he twice injected a milligram of strychnine into Tom Hicks during the marathon of the 1904 Olympic Games. A track rider of the era said he had developed such a tolerance to the drug that he took doses large enough to kill smaller men. The use of strychnine, far from being banned, was thought necessary to survive demanding races, says the sports historian Alain Lunzenfichter. Other than that, riders would take anything to survive the tedium, the pain and the exhaustion of stages that could last more than 300km. That included alcohol, which was already strong in French culture and sometimes purer than water after the first world war destroyed water pipes and polluted water tables, and ether. There are photographs of riders holding ether-soaked handkerchiefs to their mouths, or leaving them knotted under the chin so the fumes would deaden the pain in their legs. The smell, enough to turn a man's stomach said Pierre Chany, discouraged some but also showed the extent of suffering by others. Roger Lapébie, winner of the Tour in 1937, said he smelled ether "in the bunch near the finish; it used to be taken in a little bottle called a topette. Its use lasted decades; riders were caught using it as late as 1963.
Henri spoke of being as white as shrouds once the dirt of the day had been washed off, then of their bodies being drained by diarrhoea, before continuing:
Francis Pélissier said much later: "Londres was a famous reporter but he didn't know about cycling. We kidded him a bit with our cocaine and our pills. Even so, the Tour de France in 1924 was no picnic.
The acceptance of drug-taking in the Tour de France was so complete by 1930, when the race changed to national teams that were to be paid for by the organisers, that the rule book distributed to riders by the organiser, Henri Desgrange, reminded them that drugs were not among items with which they would be provided.
Such was the extent to which stronger drugs entered cycling that the French team manager, Marcel Bidot, was cited to an inquiry by the Council of Europe as saying: "Three-quarters of riders were doped. I am well placed to know that since I visited their rooms each evening during the Tour. I always left frightened after these visits." In 1955, Dumas had a vision of how much drug-taking and the "care" of riders had changed when the French rider Jean Mallejac collapsed in the Tour de France on Mont Ventoux.
Ten kilometres from the summit, said the journalist Jacques Augendre, Malléjac was: "Streaming with sweat, haggard and comatose, he was zigzagging and the road wasn't wide enough for him... He was already no longer in the real world, still less in the world of cyclists and the Tour de France." Malléjac collapsed, falling to the ground with one foot still trapped in a pedal. The other leg pedalled on in the air. He was, said Pierre Chany, "completely unconscious, his face the colour of a corpse, a freezing sweat ran on his forehead.
Malléjac was hauled to the side of the road by Sauveur Ducazeaux, an official of another team, and Dumas summoned. Georges Pahnoud of the Télégramme de Brest reported:
Dumas had to strap Malléjac down for the journey to hospital at Avignon. Malléjac and Dumas were equally furious, Malléjac insisting he had been drugged against his will and that he wanted to start legal proceedings, Dumas saying: "I'm prepared to call for a charge of attempted murder." Malléjac recovered and rode the Tour four more times before he stopped racing in 1959 to run a driving school at Landerneau, near where he was born. He denied wrongdoing right up to his death in September 2000.
Rivière took a heavy dose of the painkiller, Palfium, to help him stay with Nencini on the climb to the col de Perjuret. The plan worked because the pair crossed the summit together. Then came a series of zigzags. Nencini took the perfect line and Rivière, trying to match him, overshot a bend, fell into a ravine, and broke his back. There he was found by his team-mate, Louis Rostollan.
Rivière knew no shame when it came to passing the blame for his fall and his broken back on to others. The team mechanic had left oil on the wheels and the brakes had not worked, he said. The mechanic was outraged, but not as much as others when the doctors found another reason - that so much painkiller was in Rivière's blood that his hands were too slow to operate the brakes. Rivière, knowing that, had preferred to blame a man working late into the night for minimal wages.
Rivière later admitted to being a drug addict, telling a newspaper that he had doped himself to beat the world hour record. "I had to take stimulants for the heart and muscles," he said. "Five minutes before the start I had a big injection of amphetamine and solucamphor, and during the attempt I had to take another five tablets because the injections would work for only 40 minutes." He admitted downing thousands of tablets a year.
"I ate bad fish at the hotel last night," he told onlookers.
The same complaint came all day. Eleven other riders abandoned the Tour that day, including the former leader, Willy Schroeder, the 1960 winner Gastone Nencini and a future leader, Karl-Heinz Kunde.
Jacques Goddet wrote that he suspected doping but nothing was proven - other than that none of the hotels the previous night had served fish, the hoteliers being anxious to clear their reputation. Pierre Dumas, however, spoke of "certain preparations". Team managers grew angry at the several days of newspaper reporting that followed and came close to calling for a strike.
Amphetamine is a drug which the Council of Europe says first appeared in sport at the Berlin Olympics in 1936. It was first produced in 1887 and the derivative, Benzedrine, was isolated in the USA in 1934. Its perceived effects gave it the street name "speed". British troops used 72 million amphetamine tablets in the Second World War and the RAF got through so many that "Methedrine won the Battle of Britain" according to one report. The problem was that amphetamine leads to a lack of judgement and a willingness to take risks, which in sport could lead to better performances, but in fighters and bombers led to more crash landings than the RAF could tolerate. The drug was withdrawn but large stocks remained on the black market. Amphetamine was also used legally as an aid to slimming.
In November 1942, the Italian rider Fausto Coppi took "seven packets of amphetamine" to beat the world hour record on the track. In 1960, the Danish rider Knud Enemark Jensen collapsed during the 100km team time trial at the Olympic Games in Rome and died later in hospital. The autopsy showed he had taken amphetamine and another drug, Ronicol, which dilates the blood vessels. The chairman of the Dutch cycling federation, Piet van Dijk, said of Rome that "dope - whole cartloads -[were] used in such royal quantities.
Jensen's death led to pressure on the International Olympic Committee, which studied a report on doping drawn up by doctors demanding dope controls. Pierre Dumas then led a committee of doctors demanding tests at the team time trial at the following Games. The tests - inspections for needle marks but also urine analyses - were the first in international sport. They were followed in November 1964 by the first national anti-doping law, which entered legislation in Belgium in April 1965. Neighbouring France passed a similar law in July of the same year. Tests in Belgium caught 37.5 per cent of professionals and almost one in four amateurs.
Testers arrived at the Tour de France for the first time in 1964, in Bordeaux, although only after word had spread and many riders had left their hotels. The first competitor they found was Raymond Poulidor, who became the first rider to be tested in the Tour. He said:
A few other riders were found, including Rik van Looy; some obliged and others refused. Next morning, the race left the city on the way to the Pyrenees and stopped in the suburb of Gradignan, in the university area of La House. The riders climbed off and began walking, shouting protests in general and in particular abuse at Pierre Dumas, whom some demanded should also take a test to see if he'd been drinking wine or taking aspirin to make his own job easier.
Tom Simpson was the leader of the British team in the 1967 Tour de France and was optimistic he could make an impact on the event. After the first week he was sixth overall, but a stomach bug began to affect his form and he lost time in a stage including the Col du Galibier. In Marseille, at the start of stage 13 on Thursday 13 July, he was still suffering the effects as the race headed into Provence on a blisteringly hot day, and he was seen to drink brandy during the early parts of the stage. In those years, the organisers limited each rider to four bottles of water, about two litres - the effects of dehydration being poorly understood. During races, riders often raided roadside bars and cafes for drinks, and filled their bottles from fountains.
On the day's main climb, Mont Ventoux, Simpson broke away early but was soon passed by the eventual stage winner, Julio Jiménez, and four others. About two kilometres from the summit, Simpson began to zig-zag across the road, eventually falling against an embankment. His team manager, Alec Taylor, said later in Cycling that he feared for Simpson less on the ascent, but moreso on how he expected him to descend the other side of the mountain. The rushing air would revive him but Taylor feared that Simpson, whom he described as a madcap descender, might overdo things and crash.
While his team-car helpers wanted him to retire from the race, Simpson insisted on being put back on his cycle and he continued for another 500m or so before again beginning to falter; he toppled unconscious into the arms of his helpers, still gripping his handlebars. A motorcycle policeman summoned Pierre Dumas, who took over team officials' first attempts at saving Simpson, including mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Dumas massaged Simpson's heart and gave him oxygen. A race helicopter then took Simpson to hospital but Simpson was declared dead soon after his arrival. Two empty tubes and a third full of amphetamines were found in the pocket of his jersey.
Simpson's last words, as remembered by the team mechanic, Harry Hall (d. 2007), and by the manager, Alec Taylor (d. 1997), were "Go on, go on! The words "Put me back on my bike!" were invented by Sid Saltmarsh, covering the event for The Sun and Cycling, who was not there at the time.
Next day, riders were reluctant to continue racing and asked for a postponement. The French rider Jean Stablinski proposed instead that the race would go on but that one of the British riders would be allowed to win the stage. This honour went to Barry Hoban. Drugs were only hinted at, particularly by Jacques Goddet, who referred in L'Équipe to Simpson's "errors in the way he looked after himself." Then a British reporter, J. L. Manning, broke the news:
Manning was a serious and well-respected journalist. His exposure, the first time a formal connection had been made between drugs and Simpson's death, set off a wave of similar reporting in Britain and elsewhere. The following month, Manning went further, in a piece headed "Evidence in the case of Simpson who crossed the frontier of endurance without being able to know he had 'had enough'":
Cynicism set in among both riders and officials. Jacques Goddet, organiser of the Tour from 1936 to 1987, said:
The rider was Michel Pollentier, who that year was Belgian national champion and therefore wearing his national colours of red, yellow and black. By the end of the stage which finished on Alpe d'Huez he had taken the race lead and could change his champion's jersey for the maillot jaune.
Pollentier was called to the drugs test with José Nazabal and Antoine Guttierez. Nazabal gave his sample but anticipated the positive result by leaving the race that night. When Guttierez went to provide his sample, the doctor - a man called Le Calvez spending his first day with the race - grew suspicious and tugged up his jersey, revealing a system of tubes and a bottle of urine. He then pulled down Pollentier's shorts and found him similarly equipped. Reports in the press called the supply of urine - somebody else's urine - as being in a bottle. Riders called it a "pear". In fact it was a condom. The tube ran from there to the riders' shorts so that pressure on the condom, held under the armpit, would give the impression of urinating.
Pollentier's manager, Fred De Bruyne, who was in the test caravan, told a news conference:
The doctor said that Pollentier had not actually used the tube and so the test would go ahead as normal. At 8pm, the organiser, Félix Lévitan, told the press that the UCI had ruled that Pollentier would be fined 5,000 Swiss francs and start an immediate suspension of two months. The question was obvious: if a rider was prepared to take drugs and win a stage, knowing he would be tested, how many times had the ruse been shown to work before?
Far from abandoning drugs, riders and their helpers concentrated on finding alternatives that could not be detected. In 1974, an advance in testing caught 13 prominent riders including Herman van Springel. Three years later the Belgian doctor, Professor Michel Debackere, perfected a test for pémoline, an amphetamine-like drug, and caught three of the biggest names in Belgium: Eddy Merckx, Freddy Maertens and Michel Pollentier.
Jacques Anquetil argued that stopping riders using amphetamine would not stop doping, merely lead riders to use more dangerous drugs. In the 1970s, along with sports such as athletics and weightlifting, cycling moved into the steroid era. Steroids are most associated with building muscle bulk but only, says Dr Jean-Pierre de Mondenard, if taken with a diet unusually high in protein. For sports such as cycling and athletics, steroids improve recovery and thereby let competitors train harder and longer and with less rest. There is also a secondary stimulant effect.
In the years following the Festina scandal, anti-doping measures were put into effect by race organizers and the UCI, including more frequent testing and new tests for blood doping transfusions and EPO use. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) was also created to help governments in anti-doping.
Evidence of drugs persisted and in 2004 came new allegations. In January, Philippe Gaumont, a rider with the Cofidis team, told investigators and the press that steroids, human growth hormone, EPO, and amphetamines were endemic to the team. In June, British cyclist David Millar, also of Cofidis, and time trial world champion, was detained by French police, his apartment searched and two used EPO syringes found. Jesus Manzano, a Spanish rider then recently dismissed by the Kelme team, told the Madrid sports newspaper AS he had been forced by his former team to take banned substances and that they had taught him to evade detection. The Kelme team itself was ultimately a casualty of the disclosures, which Manzano judged to be “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”
Doping controversy has surrounded seven-time winner Lance Armstrong, although there has never been evidence sufficient for him to be penalised. In part, suspicion has arisen from his association with Italian physician Michele Ferrari, who confessed to prescribing illegal enhancements to athletes. There have been allegations by Armstrong's former assistant, Mike Anderson, that Armstrong used androstenine. This resulted in a lawsuit against Anderson and a countersuit against Armstrong. In late August 2005, one month after Lance Armstrong's seventh consecutive Tour victory, the French sports newspaper L'Équipe claimed evidence that Armstrong had used EPO in the 1999 Tour de France. The claim was based on urine samples archived by the French National Laboratory for Doping Detection (LNDD) for research. Armstrong denied using EPO and the UCI did not penalise him because of the lack of a duplicate sample. The UCI confirmed that its own doctor Mario Zorzoli leaked the 15 forms tying Armstrong to the positive tests to L'Équipe. In the same year, Armstrong tested positive for a glucocorticosteroid hormone. Armstrong explained he had used an external cortisone ointment to treat a saddle sore and produced a prescription for it. The amount detected was below the threshold and said to be consistent with the amount used for a topical skin cream, but UCI rules required that prescriptions be shown to sports authorities in advance of use.
The Astana-Würth team could not start because, despite a ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, five of its nine Tour riders were barred after being officially named in the Operacion Puerto affair. With only four riders remaining (Alexander Vinokourov, Andrey Kashechkin, Carlos Barredo and Luis León Sanchez) the team didn't have the minimum number of riders demanded by the rules to enter.
The cyclists excluded from 2006 Tour de France were:
On July 27, 2006 the Phonak team announced that Floyd Landis, winner of the 2006 Tour, tested positive after stage 17 for an abnormally high ratio of the hormone testosterone to epitestosterone. On the day the allegations were made public, Landis denied doping in order to win the 2006 Tour de France. Landis' personal doctor later revealed the test had found a ratio of 11:1 in Landis' blood ; the permitted ratio is 4:1. On 31 July 2006 The New York Times reported that tests on Landis' sample revealed some synthetic testosterone.
The 2007 Tour de France was dogged by controversies from the start. On 18 July, two German television companies pulled out of coverage after T-Mobile's German rider, Patrik Sinkewitz, tested positive for testosterone on 8 June at a pre-Tour training camp.
Alessandro Petacchi, a sprint specialist, tested positive for salbutamol at Pinerolo on 23 May in the 2007 Giro d'Italia, the day of the third of his five stage wins in the event. Petacchi, an asthma sufferer, was suspended by Milram and forced to miss the Tour de France. He was later cleared after the drug was deemed to be therapeutic use.
On 19 June it was revealed that the leader, Michael Rasmussen, was under suspicion for missing two out-of-competition doping tests. The Dane had been dropped by the Danish Cycling Union and his Olympic place was under review. However with information available at the time, Rasmussen had not committed an offence under UCI rules and he remained in the Maillot jaune. On 8 November Rasmussen admitted providing false information to the UCI..
Then on 24 July it was revealed that Alexandre Vinokourov had tested positive for blood doping after the time trial in Albi, which he won by more than a minute As a result the Astana Team withdrew. Vinokourov's teammates Andreas Klöden and Andrey Kashechkin were fifth and seventh at the time. Vinokourov also tested positive for blood doping after winning Monday's stage 15.
Following the Vinokourov announcement, Tour director Christian Prudhomme said professional cycling needed a "complete overhaul" to combat doping.
A day later, after winning the 16th stage on the Col d'Aubisque, it was alleged that Rasmussen had lied to his Rabobank team about his whereabouts on 13 and 14 June, prior to the Tour. For breaching team rules, he was removed from the race. It was later revealed that the Tour organiser, Amaury Sport Organisation, had pressed Rabobank to remove Rasmussen. On the same day, Team Cofidis pulled out following the positive test on their rider Cristian Moreni.
The Tour continued to be embroiled in doping controversies even after it finished. It emerged that Spanish cyclist (and 16th placed rider) Iban Mayo had tested positive for EPO on the second rest day, on July 24. He was suspended by his team Saunier Duval-Prodir. Mayo had previously tested positive for synthetic testosterone during the 2007 Giro d'Italia, but the UCI found that he had not breached any doping regulation. Mayo placed 16th overall in the 2007 Tour.
Tour winner Alberto Contador also continued to be linked to doping allegations, focussing on his relationship with Eufemiano Fuentes and his role in Operación Puerto, but without new revelations. Contador was tested in the Tour after stages 14, 17, and 18 and no discrepancies were reported. Several participants, such as Sébastien Hinault, implied that he is no better than Rasmussen. On July 30 German doping expert Werner Franke accused him of having taken drugs in the past.
|2008||Carlos Sastre||Clean||Never been accused of doping. The closest he has been was being on the same team as Ivan Basso.|
|2007||Alberto Contador||Clean||Named in Operacion Puerto doping case, but later declared clean.|
|2006||Floyd Landis||Banned||Tested positive for high testosterone to epitestosterone ratio; Oscar Pereiro named as winner in default - Clean but cleared after testing positive for salbutamol|
|1999-2005||Lance Armstrong||Clean|| Associated with Michele Ferrari, who is suspected of prescribing doping agents.|
Allegations by former assistant for Androstenine use.
Alleged EPO use in 1999 Tour de France.
Tested positive for glucocorticosteroid hormone without prescription given in advance.
|1998||Marco Pantani||Banned (deceased)||Failed a blood test in 1999 Giro d'Italia; Insulin found in his hotel room in the 2001 Giro d'Italia|
|1997||Jan Ullrich||Banned|| Tested positive for amphetamines (off season, not taken for athletic performance gain)|
Involved in the Operacion Puerto case
|1996||Bjarne Riis||Confessed||Confessed having used EPO in 1996|
|1991-1995||Miguel Indurain||Tested positive|| Tested positive for salbutamol in 1994, which was not yet forbidden by UCI.|
Connections with doping-doctor Conconi
|1988||Pedro Delgado||Used doping||Tested positive for probenecid in the 1988 Tour de France, although it was not illegal for cyclists at that time|
|1987||Stephen Roche||Involved in case||According to an investigation in Italy into the practices of Francesco Conconi, Roche received EPO in 1993|
|1983-1984||Laurent Fignon||Tested positive||In 1989 Fignon tested positive after a team time trial|
|1980||Joop Zoetemelk||Tested positive||Tested positive in the 1977 (pemoline), 1979 (steroids) and 1983 Tour de France (nandrolon, although that was retracted later)|
|Bernard Thévenet||Confessed||Admitted using steroids in the 1975 and 1977 Tour|
|1976||Lucien Van Impe||Clean||The first Tour winner since 1966 never connected to doping|
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