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Friday, July 17, 1998 Published at 15:58 GMT 16:58 UK

Doping scandal dogs Le Tour

Richard Virenque with suspended director Bruno Roussel

Two team officials embroiled in the Tour de France drugs scandal are still being held by French police.

Bruno Roussel, director of the Festina team, and Eric Ryckaert, the team's doctor, have been moved to the northern city of Lille as police continue to investigate allegations of doping.

[ image: Eric Ryckaert: Protesting innocence]
Eric Ryckaert: Protesting innocence
Mr Roussel has been suspended by the sport's governing body pending an inquiry, though the team are still racing.

Police took the men in for questioning after they had arrested a team masseur, Willy Voet, who was caught carrying 400 bottles of a performance-enhancing drug used by cyclists.

He is also being held in Lille and it is expected that investigating judge Patrick Keil, responsible for questioning Mr Voet, will interview the other men.

But there are growing fears that the doping scandal, potentially the biggest to hit a sport already beset by allegations of drug use, could irreparably damage one of France's most prestigious events.

'Festina suspicions'

Heink Verbruggen, President of the International Cycling Union (UCI) said that there had been suspicions about the Festina team before the arrest of masseur Willy Voet.

He said: "We already had our doubts about the team over the case of Christophe Moreau's positive test in June for anabolic steroids which Roussel told me personally was the fault of a masseur.

"However, our enquiries suggested it is more the environment that the masseur works in than the person himself which must be questioned.

"It's a bitter blow for cycling. We realise that there are many riders who take drugs which cannot be detected."

[ image: Jean-Marie Leblanc: Tour head suspended Roussel]
Jean-Marie Leblanc: Tour head suspended Roussel
Festina, one of the world's most successful teams, includes Laurent Brochard, the world road race champion, four times King of the Mountains Richard Virenque and Alex Zulle, much favoured to challenge for this year's Tour title.

One French newspaper, Le Parisien, has reported that Mr Roussel and Mr Ryckaert were named in a Belgian investigation into the supply of EPO, a drug which improves the transport of oxygen in the blood stream.

Following Mr Voet's arrest, police raided the Festina team's Lyon headquarters where they say they found anabolic steroids and chemical masking agents.

Mr Roussel said he was "stunned" by the scandal but has denied any wrongdoing.

Speaking to the French newspaper, L'Equipe, Mr Ryckaert said he had been "broken" by the allegations.

Strongly denying any involvement in doping riders, he said: "My wife knows me, and she knows that everything they are saying about me is a serious lie".

Team 'traumatised'

The French prime minister, Lionel Jospin, watched the developments with sadness - but not total surprise.

[ image: Lionel Jospin: Demanded answers]
Lionel Jospin: Demanded answers
He insisted "that light be shed, and conclusions drawn".

Richard Virenque said the team had been traumatised by the arrests.

"This is a nightmare we are living through," he said.

"We came into the Tour with real prospects of taking the Tour whether it was me or Alex Zulle.

"Instead each day gets greyer and greyer and it is proving traumatic for us."

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In this section

Tour tarnished by drugs scandal

Pirate takes yellow treasure

The Pirate hangs on

Backstedt sprints into history

Two more charged with Tour doping

Riders fear truth warn authorities

Drugs scandal widens

Steels snatches sprint victory

Tour reaches new low

Obree: I was offered drugs on Tour

Ullrich edges out Pantani

Bigmat joins Tour drugs scandal

Pirate captures yellow jersey

O'Grady 'in Disneyland'

Nardello escapes the pack

Tour safe - for now

The Tour's surprise package

Steels claims stage win

Riders' protest delays Tour de France

Festina riders detained in doping row