Que? Festina leader Richard Virenque under pressure in 1998.
The Festina Affair led to the 1998 edition of France’s pride and joy being dubbed the Tour de Farce—belatedly bringing cycling’s sickly state into mainstream focus.
It all started when eponymous team masseur, Willie Voet, was stopped by French customs officers on a back road near the Belgian border.
En route to catching a ferry to Dublin for the start three days later, his car boot was weighed down with enough controlled substances to stock a small hospital.
In his 1999 book Breaking The Chain, Voet confessed all he knew about doping (not confined to his own team, nor the 90s), just as he’d done while in police custody.
Though initially denying the obvious, Festina were forced to come clean, and swiftly sent packing; though their leader, French pin-up Richard Virenque, brazenly pleaded probity.
Meanwhile, police raided hotels and team buses. More teams ducked and dived, and riders staged sit-down protests.
Eventually the worthless race was won by Italian climber Marco Pantani, who would die in 2004 of a cocaine-related heart attack, his career having caved in under the weight of suspensions, suspicion, and depression.
During the Festina trial in the Fall of 2000, Virenque, having described himself as “an innocent victim”, finally admitted using PEDs when faced with incontrovertible medical evidence, and a possible perjury rap.
Unfortunately for the watchmakers, who are still the Tour’s official timekeepers, the Festina brand name is a byword for cycling’s doping zenith.
In truth, nothing changed, merely the methods of cheating, for at least another decade.