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Saturday, July 18, 1998 Published at 16:47 GMT 17:47 UK

Pedalling drugs through Tour history

Tommy Simpson: Winning became too much

The world's media has descended on the Tour de France to witness what appears to be another major drugs scandal emerging at the very highest levels of sport.

But while the Festina team, banned on Friday night from competition, try to make sense of their future, there is a little memorial on a mountain top which points the to fact that drugs are not new to professional cycling.

[ image: He never regained consciousness]
He never regained consciousness
The memorial marks the point where UK cyclist Tommy Simpson died while climbing the 6,000ft high Mt Ventoux in the 1967 Tour De France.

Delirious from exhaustion, he was helped from his bike and never regained consciousness.

The death shocked the cycling world - not just for the tragedy of the loss of a young and gifted athlete - but for what was discovered soon afterwards.

Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc bans Festina (in French)
A post-mortem on Simpson discovered amphetamines in his blood supply to go with those in his hotel room and jersey.

In the wake of Tommy Simpson's death, the sport's governing body, the International Union of Cycling, began banning performance enhancing substances.

But for many professionals, drugs are still a vital part of the sport.

[ image:  ]
While the Festina ban may prompt a debate about the pressure on the world's leading sports men and women, the Simpson death did little in the long term to stop the incidences of drug abuse.

Eleven years after the tragedy, Belgium's Michel Pollentier was thrown out for a crude attempt to fix a doping test with the help of a rubber tube and a bulb of urine.

A decade later, the Tour de France faced one of its toughest periods when Spain's Pedro Delgardo twice failed a doping test in 1988's competition.

He went on to win the Tour because the drug, Probenicid, was not then banned.

Its purpose is to mask the chemical trace of other drugs.

The treatment of Delgardo caused uproar among fellow riders who ignored the starter's flag at the 20th stage in protest at how the tests had been conducted.

The then French sports minister, current prime Minister Lionel Jospin, in turn boycotted the climax of the event, accusing the sport of "straying from considerations of health and morals".

Chris Boardman: "I'm very very disappointed"
Almost every year there have been allegations of drugs being used in the world's toughest endurance event.

Perhaps the public who cheer riders on as they battle up mountain passes at 20mph should not be surprised when evidence of drugs is uncovered.

Within the sport itself, the subject, until this week, had been a relatively closed book.

The pack of riders - the peloton - has been accused of operating a mafia-like culture of secrecy and silence.

[ image: Indurain: Accused but cleared]
Indurain: Accused but cleared
The last attempt to reveal the use of drugs in the sport came when former Irish rider Paul Kimmage published his book, 'A Rough Ride', in 1990.

Just two week's before the start of that year's Tour, he alleged that the sport was "infested with the abuse of drugs", including mid-race injections for that extra boost before the final sprint.

"I just couldn't handle the pressure," he said, explaining his own fall into the use of drugs.

"There was the unbearable pressure of a corrupt system that actually encourages drug abuse."

The ICU's drugs policy has been frequently criticised as confused or too lax.

In 1994 it took a heavy blow when the legendary Miguel Indurain became involved in a row over how tests are conducted.

He tested positive for Salbutamol. It is used in medicines that aid breathing - Indurain is an asthmatic.

'Immense pressure'

Chris Boardman, who crashed out of this year's Tour after holding the Yellow Jersey, said he understood the temptations.

[ image: Boardman:
Boardman: "Temptation is there"
"There is no getting away from the fact that the (Festina ban) is very very big.

"This is not the sport's governing body coming in, it is the law coming in and it is happening in the largest cycling team in the world."

Boardman said that there is immense pressure on cyclists at the top of the profession.

He said he had not personally seen drugs been used because he had "made his own decision" to avoid it.

But he added: "I can certainly understand it. For a lot of people it is a question of what is the reality of their situation.

"Cycling is a very working class sport and for some people there is a choice between maybe working in the factory or earning hundreds of thousands cycling.

"In some ways I'm happy to be back home."

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International Olympic Committee: The fight against doping

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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