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Last Updated: Friday, 24 September, 2004, 10:09 GMT 11:09 UK
French hero Virenque quits
Richard Virenque
Virenque's place in Tour history is assured
Richard Virenque, one of France's most popular and controversial cyclists, has retired from the sport aged 34.

Virenque clinched a record seventh King of the Mountains title in this year's Tour de France.

But the 34-year-old said: "I have been riding for 20 years and I didn't want to do it for a year too many."

Adored by French fans despite being banned in the wake of the 1998 Tour drugs scandal, Virenque had resurrected his career with the Quick Step team.

"France loved Richard Virenque," French sports daily L'Equipe reported.

Virenque followed a third place in the 1996 Tour de France with second in 1997, but a year later his Festina squad was ejected from the race after customs officers found a stash of banned drugs in a team car.

At a trial, Virenque was cleared of charges that he helped supply drugs to his team-mates.

However, he caused a furore with his testimony which claimed there was systematic drug abuse within his team and the sport of cycling.

His admission of doping led to a ban that kept him out of the 2001 Tour, and he admitted he thought his career was over.

"I symbolise doping," Virenque told French newspaper Le Monde.

Richard Virenque
"My phone rarely rings. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of riders who call me."

But his return to the sport was greeted warmly by the French public.

He won the gruelling stage up the legendary Mont Ventoux on his Tour comeback in 2002, and followed that with a win to Morzine in the Alps in 2003.

The Morocco-born Virenque was admired for his climbing abilities and his determined solo breakaways, often surging ahead of the pack early to clinch victories in the mountains.

This year, Virenque took Bastille Day glory by winning the Tour's longest stage on 14 July, with another solo breakaway.

Virenque went on to take his seventh polka-dot jersey, overtaking Spanish rider Federico Bahamontes and Belgian Lucien van Impe, who both won six.

Virenque seals record
25 Jul 04  |  Cycling

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