So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
This time out we're taking a trip down memory lane to the 1988 Tour de France. There are so many stories you could tell about the seventy-fifth Tour. Some of them even involve cycling.
There's the story of 7-Eleven's Bob Roll bowing out of the race the day before the préface after playing skittles with a spectator and losing. There's the story of Kiwi neo-pro Nathan Dahlberg's thousand kilometre dash to take the start in Roll's place.
There's the story of the préface itself, a novelty event in which the squads set off for a six kilometre team time trial, at the end of which a nominated rider would do a flying kilo. None of the time counted toward GC, though the fastest team over the first section trousered a pocketful of dosh while the winner of the solo section started the race proper in the maillot jaune.
There's the story of a more lasting novelty the Tour added in 1988, the village départ.
There's the story of the turmoil within the Société du Tour de France. A month before the race Jean-Pierre Courcol took over as race director after Jean-François Naquet-Radiguet went the way of the man he had replaced only a year earlier, Félix Lévitan.
There's the story of the curse of the yellow jersey, with the two previous winners - Stephen Roche and Greg LeMond - both missing, the Irishman because of his troublesome knee, the American because the come back from his hunting accident was not going entirely to plan. Their teams - Fagor and PDM - would just have to do without them.
There are the stories of the winners of the year's two other Grand Tours - Sean Kelly at the Vuelta a España and Andy Hampsten at the Giro d'Italia - and the relatively anonymous performances they put in at the Tour de France.
There's the story of the lingering feud between Laurent Fignon's Système U and Jean-François Bernard's Toshiba squads. Or the story of Fignon's two metre tapeworm (the source of which, it was claimed, was tainted meat) or the bidon he hurled at a motorcycle-mounted photographer who tried to cut him up (an excellent over-arm delivery that ought have merited him a place in the French cricket squad, if only the French played the game).
There's the story of the stage won by Steve Bauer for Canada, and the five yellow jerseys he took home with him. Or the story of Sean Yates' stage win for the Brits.
There's the story of the Dutch one-two on l'Alpe d'Huez, with Steven Rooks and Gert-Jan Theunisse proving once again that the Alpe really is the southernmost village of the Netherlands.
There's the story of Guzet Neige, where Massimo Ghirotto snatched victory as Philippe Bouvatier and Robert Millar took a wrong turn two hundred metres out from the finish line.
There's the story of the Colombian challenge, with Fabio Parra becoming the first rider from Colombia to mount the Tour's podium, in third place. His compatriot, Luis Herrera, a former KOM winner, proved that your strengths tend to suffer when you work on your weaknesses, with Lucho putting in solid performances on the flats but sorry performances in the hills.
But 1988 - like 1998 - is a Tour in which the racing was overtaken by le dopage. 1988 was the year of the Delgado affaire, which - in light of recent developments in the sport - has a particularly piquant resonance. So screw the hot bike-on-bike action and let's do what I normally do: bang on about doping.
As well as looking at what happened to Delgado, and the UCI's response to the situation, we'll also be taking a detour to look at the curious case of Gert-Jan Theunisse. We also get a little knowledge about François Bellocq which, in the hands of those who enjoy playing connect the dots, could be a dangerous thing.
* * * * *
The 1988 Tour de France was into the home straight. The Alps were a distant memory and the Pyrénées were fading into the rear-view mirror. The sprinters were back in control as the Tour barrelled into Bordeaux. The race was just five days out from Paris. Pedro Delgado was wrapped in the yellow jersey and it looked like it would take a major upset for anyone to take it away from him.
On the evening the race arrived in Bordeaux, Jacques Chancel was interviewing Perico on his daily après Tour show when, instead of his usual softball questioning, Chancel tied to toss a live hand grenade at the Spaniard:
Chancel: Pedro, are you sure about making it all the way to Paris in yellow? Aren't you worried about anything? About some sort of incident?
Delgado: No, I'll be in yellow in Paris.
With Delgado refusing to rise to the bait, Chancel ended his programme on a teasing note: "Tomorrow, despite the short stage that takes us to Limoges, there will be a storm around the Tour. I have a hunch that something is going to happen."
A few hours later, on Antenne 2's Journal du Tour, Chancel's 'hunch' was explained by Patrick Chêne: "We have a big piece of news that was only a rumour this morning but now has developed. We've learned that in the hours to come, in the days to come, it will be announced that Pedro Delgado has tested positive for drugs." Le maillot jaune positif? Incroyable!
Chêne asked one of his guests for a comment. He was Jean-Pierre Courcol, the newly installed director of the Tour: "For me it's nothing but a rumour. And since it's just a rumour, I won't comment. Before announcing something like this, you've got to be sure. We're not sure, we know nothing and so I have nothing at all to say." (How is it Boyzone so eloquently put it? You say it best when you say nothing at all?)
Journalists immediately descended upon Delgado's hotel. The Spaniard, eating his dinner at the time, was asked by reporters for his response: "I know nothing, let me eat my dinner in peace." Had he used illegal drugs, he was asked: "Never. Until now I've been happy but now I'm afraid of having drunk from a doped bottle. You know, a rider will drink from any bottle a spectator holds out during a race. It's the only explanation."
The news was made official the following morning, before the start of the stage from Ruelle sur Touvre to Limoges: at the Grenoble to Villard de Lans time trial, where Delgado had won the stage and cemented his claim to the maillot jaune, Perico had tested positive for an unnamed drug. If his B-sample confirmed the result of the A test, Delgado faced a fine of about $800 (£600), a ten-minute time penalty and a suspension of one month, suspended for two years. Those ten minutes could cost Delgado dear: they would drop him to seventh on GC.
The closest the Tour had come to such trouble - publicly anyway - had been ten years earlier, in 1978, when Michel Pollentier, the newly installed race leader, had been turfed off the race on l'Alpe d'Huez after being caught trying to cheat the dope control. The maillot jaune though had never - again, publicly - failed a dope test.
Delgado himself had seen the damage a positive dope control could do. In 1982 he had been a member of the Reynolds squad when his team-mate, Angel Arroyo, was stripped of his Vuelta a España victory shortly after the race ended, when he was found to have used the stimulant methylphenidate. (In a curious case of symmetry, it was a Spanish journalist, from El Mundo Deportivo, who broke the news to Arroyo.) The ten-minute time penalty Arroyo received dropped him from first to thirteenth on GC and handed the race to Marino Lejarreta. (Arroyo was still a Reynolds rider in 1988, and had started the Tour in support of Delgado, before dropping out on the road to Luz Ardiden.)
Luis Ocaña, the last Spaniard to win the Tour, in 1973, was not very hopeful of the B-test changing the result and Delgado becoming only the third Iberian to win the Tour: "The trouble is that I've never heard of a second test that reversed the original finding."
Steven Rooks, who was wearing the polka-dot jersey, stood to take the race lead if Delgado was penalised. Harrie Jansen, an official from his PDM squad, expressed his distaste with the unfolding events: "This is not the way we wanted to win the race. This is not the way the Tour de France should be decided." Jansen went on to defend Delgado: "There's no way this can be true. Delgado rode the last two years with us and I know him too well to believe that he would use drugs." Rooks himself was also unhappy: "If Delgado gets put back ten minutes and I win, I'll go to Segovia on Monday and give him the yellow jersey. It belongs to him."
Not everyone in the peloton was as forgiving. Eric Boyer, of Système U, made his thoughts clear: "Delgado wanted to take a chance and he's lost. He was second last year and maybe he didn't want to be second again this year. Too bad for cycling. He cheated and he fooled his fans and everybody else."
Not all riders found it easy to talk so openly about the problem. Paul Kimmage hadn't made the RMO Tour squad and was instead watching le grand boucle as a journalist, writing a weekly column about the race for David Walsh at the Sunday Tribune. His fourth and final column never appeared. Kimmage explained why in A Rough Ride:
"The affair left me in an awkward situation. How could I possibly write another Tour article for the Tribune without mentioning the Delgado affair? Oh, I could have done it all right. A piece on my shock and horror that a fine rider like Delgado would do such a despicable thing and 'cheat' by taking drugs would probably have fitted in nicely. But I wasn't shocked, I knew what went on, and as soon as I picked up my pen I would have to be honest. I was not ready to write about the drug problems in the sport. They could not be explained in five hundred words. I talked it over with David and we decided that the best way out was to abandon the column."
Kimmage wasn't the only Irish rider sitting out the Tour. His fellow Dubliner, the defending champ Stephen Roche, was enjoying an enforced rest as he recovered from surgery on his troublesome knee. Unlike Kimmage, who felt unable to address the issue, or Boyer, who openly criticised Delgado, Roche zeroed in on the manner in which the story was broken by the media: "I'm for drug tests, I've always said so. But this time I'm shocked that the rider was told by the press, by television, that he was positive. That's disgusting. This type of information has to stay confidential until it's confirmed by the second test."
Chancel, interviewed by l'Equipe, defended himself against the accusations being hurled at him and the rest of the media: "If we hadn't made the revelations the news would have come out much later and would have damaged Delgado more. Whenever there's a problem, I expose it. That's how you discuss it openly. I accepted my responsibilities. It's more important to be respected than loved."
Outside of Tour time, Chancel's normal gig was host of a popular music show. Hardly Woodstein material, let alone a proto Pierre Ballester or Eugenio Capodacqua or David Walsh. But then I suppose asking a muso if they've ever taken drugs would be like asking bears about their toilet habits.
The following day, as the race wended its way from Limoges to the Puy de Dôme, Delgado's B-sample was being tested in the Châtenay-Malabry laboratory in Paris. In the Clermont Ferrand salle de presse the assembled journalists were learning more about what was happening. A Spanish colleague told them that the drug Delgado tested positive for was probenecid, which he had definitely used. But, the Spanish journo assured his colleagues, while the B-sample would confirm that, Delgado would skate because probenecid was not banned by the UCI. It was banned by the IOC but the UCI were not due to add it to their list until August.
Late into the evening - well after everyone had forgotten Johnny Weltz's victory on the Puy de Dôme - the story told by the Spanish journalist was confirmed in full. Delgado was positive for probenecid but, while it was banned by the IOC, it was not on the UCI's banned list. Where had the Spanish journalist got his story? "Delgado told me. This morning I had breakfast with Delgado and he explained it all to me."
The morning before, at the start of the stage to Limoges, Delgado had assured journalists of his innocence with this comment: "I have taken no medicine. I don't know what drug is involved."
Probenecid is an anti-inflammatory, available over the counter, used in the treatment of gout and similar ailments. However, because of its diuretic properties, it has been known to be used by athletes as a masking agent. The IOC had added it to its banned list the previous year, but the IOC's list and the UCI's list were out of synch, and the UCI wouldn't be updating their list until August.
That this lack of synchronisation in the lists might cause a problem should not have come as news. At the Munich Olympics in 1972, a Dutch rider, Aad van den Hoek, tested positive for Coramine. At the time this was legal in the peloton but banned by the IOC. Had the UCI wished to redress the problem they could have done it after that incident, either by accepting the primacy of the IOC list - something that was anathema to the UCI, seen as being tantamount to surrendering sovereignty of their sport - or by updating their own list before the start of the cycling season, instead of toward its end.
* * * * *
Pedro Delgado was not the only one with a doping problem on the 1988 Tour. L'Equipe ran a Number of the Day feature. On the morning of the stage to the Puy de Dôme that number was sixteen: "The number of racers who tested positive in this Tour. The revelation comes from some of our Dutch colleagues, who heard it from other riders. And, the rumour says, the number isn't through growing." (The favourite song of Tour journos? I Heard It Through The Grapevine.)
L'Equipe was really getting its teeth into the doping problem. They ran an interview with the Teka rider, Régis Clère. "If they had stricter drug tests," he told them, "ninety percent of the riders would be found positive." Clère went on to compare the drugs of the day with those of the past: "The trouble is that riders replace one substance with another. In the old days, people used amphetamines, which was bad enough but maybe not so bad as the drugs people take now."
Bad as the drugs of the day were though, Clère thought it ought be left to the riders to decide: "All athletes use drugs as much as, if not more than, cyclists. I'm for drug tests because you have to set certain limits to prevent abuse. But all in all, I wonder whether it isn't better to let riders do whatever they want. After all, they're adults. If they want to destroy themselves, why bother to try to stop them?"
Why bother indeed. On the 26th November 1988 - barely four months after Clère's interview - Geert Van de Walle, a twenty-three year old Belgian, died of a heart attack after a trainng session. He's thought to have been one of the first cyclists killed by EPO.
L'Equipe ran with more rumours: "The Dutchman Teun Van Vliet, who did not start the ninth stage, from Nancy to Strasbourg, quit the Tour because he knew that he had tested positive. Other well-known riders have also chosen this path." (The innuendo here was directed at Laurent Fignon, who abandoned the race in the Alps. Libération had been less circumspect with their rumour mongering and actually named Fignon as having failed a dope test. He sued them and won. He hadn't been dope tested even once during his ten days in the race.)
L'Equipe's rumours were unverified and never proven. Most of them were unfounded. But there was one other positive on the 1988 Tour: PDM's Gert-Jan Theunisse had tested positive after the Morzine stage, where he was one of two riders chosen at random to supply a doping sample. "It's impossible," Theunisse said, prior to the start of the stage to Limoges, "I can't have been positive. I have a horror of doping. What will people think back home?"
The next day, the PDM rider's doping was confirmed: he was positive for testosterone. The fine didn't hurt him much. The ten minute time penalty dropped him from fourth to eleventh on GC. He got another two minutes and another 1,000 Swiss franc fine during that day's stage, when he took a swing at Paul Köchli, the directeur sportif of the Weinmann-La Suisse squad. Apparently Theunisse took offence at the less than sympathetic attitude shown by Köchli to his misfortune. (Köchli was strongly anti-doping and believed that the received wisdom about it being impossible to win the Tour without drugs was wrong: "One day the immense majority of riders, the immense majority of the public, will confirm that.")
Theunisse disputed the result of the dope test, claimed that the reason he tested positive for testosterone was that he had naturally high levels of the hormone, that a thyroid problem was the cause. At the 1990 Flèche Wallonne, where he finished third, those naturally high testosterone levels again caused him a problem and he was again busted (he was also busted at the Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco the same month). Curiously, those naturally high testosterone levels hadn't caused him a problem in 1988, when he won the Clásica San Sebastián. Or in 1989, when he won stages in the Tour de Trump and the Tour de France, or when he took overall victory in the Vuelta a Asturias.
Theunisse's 1990 positive caused an interesting problem: the suspended sentence from 1988 was still hanging over the Dutchman's head, like Damocles' sword. By rights, Theunisse should now have been sin binned for six months. Instead, because of a technical error - the French fed had not properly informed the Dutch fed - the Belgian fed gave him another suspended sentence.
The news of this broke during the 1990 Giro d'Italia. The peloton threw a wobbly. They staged a strike and the start of the sixth stage was delayed. A delegation of directeurs sportifs, lead by Roger Legeay and Cyrille Guimard, confronted Hein Verbruggen, then VP of the UCI (he would take his seat at the top of the table later in the year, after the death of Luis Puig). Verbruggen, ever the diplomat, promised the UCI would look into the matter. In August, come the UCI's annual shindig at the Worlds. Legeay and co were having none of that - what was the point of handing out a suspension that wouldn't start until the Autumn?
Verbruggen tried to smooth talk them, asking that Theunisse be given the benefit of the doubt: "In the Tour of Belgium last year  Sean Yates, positive with anabolic steroids, was given the benefit of the doubt. And Delgado in the Tour of '88 received the support of a minister. Why not Theunisse?"
Page two of the UCI's play book for dealing with doping cases: if in doubt, muddy the waters. (Page one: shoot the messenger.) Yates had been cleared because it was accepted a labelling error must have occurred and the tested sample was not his. Delgado skated because the UCI's rules allowed him to skate.
Why Verbruggen didn't raise the Kim Andersen case - where, as with Theunisse, failure to dot all the I's and cross all the T's in the paperwork saw the Dane get off a potentially career-ending doping offence - I don't know. It would have been a more appropriate precedent to cite. Maybe though by pointing that out Verbruggen would have highlighted the absurdity of making national feds deal with doping cases when that was something the UCI should have taken responsibility for.
The Andersen case may have added to some of the confusion over Theunisse's ban. The doping penalties had been changed at the end of 1988 and sentences for a first offence were suspended for only one year, not two. However, that rule change was not backdated to cover sentences handed down prior to its implementation. This must have created some anomalous situations: a rider given a suspended sentence late in 1988 would have had that hanging over him through to late 1990, while a rider given a suspended sentence early in 1989 would have been clear of that sanction by early 1990.
At this point the French fed got the hump. It was bad enough that they had been blamed for letting Andersen skate, but to be now blamed for Theunisse going free? They challenged the UCI's reading of the rules. The UCI backed down. The Belgian fed changed the sanction on Theunisse: his Flèche result was wiped, he was fined 5,000 Swiss francs and was suspended for six months. He missed the 1990 Tour de France. And the lucrative post-Tour critérium circuit.
In November 1997 - a full nine months before the world was shocked to discover there was systematic, team-led doping in cycling - PDM's dirty washing was hung out on the line. A Dutch newspaper, Dagblad De Limburger, ran an exposé on the team's doping programme. This had been uncovered when Wim Sanders - the PDM doctor in 1990 and 1991 (he was ditched after the Intralipid affaire) - was investigated in 1995 for tax fraud. The investigators stumbled upon the doping scandal.
That there was doping going on in PDM came as no surprise to those involved with the sport. The team had a reputation. Johannes Draaijer, a PDM rider, had died in his sleep in 1990 and his wife blamed his death on EPO. Two other PDM riders retired that year with heart conditions. The initials - which officially stood for Philips Dupont Magnetics - were variously mistranslated. In Dutch they were said to mean Prestaties Door Manipulaties (performances through manipulation). In French it was Plein de Manipulation (full of maninpulationa). In English it was Pills, Drugs and Medicine.
Dagblad De Limburger interviewed Jan Gisbers, a directeur sportif with PDM, and asked him about Theunisse: "We had a medical rule that each rider must see a doctor. They must also keep a diary [recording what medicines they took]. As to what the doctor did, I was not in the know. How could I control that? I can search for substances, but I would have found nothing. The riders are not naïve. They are more crafty than you think. You must be able to search the riders, the soigneurs and the doctor." Gisbers went on: "Should we really have conducted searches? No-one wished that. Theunisse said that he had not done anything and his daily diary showed nothing. We had to believe him."
Two years later, in 1999, the skeletons in PDM's closet were again being rattled, in the wake of the Festina affaire. When PDM folded in 1992, their riders had formed the nucleus of Festina. Willy Voet blamed Gisbers and Eric Ryckaert for bringing the use of EPO to Festina with them. Gisbers was interviewed for the Dutch TV programme Barend and Van Dorp, where he was asked about Theunisse's claim that he had a naturally high testosterone level. Gisbers expressed doubt: "I don't believe his body could do that. But like all top sports persons he was scared that he would be pilloried. If there wasn't a system of judgement which crucified the rider then it would be easier for them to tell everyone what substances they had used." (Maybe if riders admitted to doping they wouldn't be pilloried - look at Jacques Anquetil.)
Later that year Steven Rooks - the man who hadn't wanted to profit from Delgado's misfortune in 1988 - was one of three PDM riders who spoke about doping during their time at PDM. Peter Winnen and Maerten Ducrot were the other two. Needless to say, the UCI was unhappy to hear these stories. Verbruggen complained that they "cannot bring any good and it makes those riding clean feel guilty. They are giving the impression that doping practices were structured in their teams." At this point Verbruggen was still holding with cycling's version of the lone gunman theory, claiming that Festina was an isolated incident, one rotten apple. He went on with his criticism of the Dutch whistleblowers: "A rider is the first one responsible for his doping. They could have said no to doping. About these three riders, another Dutch rider told me that if they were ethical they would return the prizes they won thanks to doping."
Theunisse himself then came out, early in 2000. He had ended his career in 1995, after being diagnosed with a heart condition. He took up mountain biking. In June 1999 he suffered a heart attack while in Italy for an MTB race: he awoke one morning with a pain in his chest, went for a walk, collapsed and was found by a passer-by, who called an ambulance. The doctors told him that, when admitted to hospital, he had a temperature of 106 and a H-count of 52%. After the revelations from Rooks, Winnen and Ducrot, Theunisse spoke to a Dutch newspaper, Eindhovens Dagblad, admitting that, during his time in the pro peloton, he had used copious quantities of Celestone, a corticoid. He maintained that he'd never touched testosterone.
* * * * *
Back in the 1988 Tour, the headline writers had a bit of fun: Le Maillot Jaune Blanchi. The yellow jersey cleared. Or, depending on your reading of blanchi, whitewashed. The French love their puns.
Jean-Marie Courcol wrote in l'Equipe that he was ashamed: "Yes, I know I'm new to cycling. Yes, I still believe that professional athletes are examples for our children. Yes, bicycle racers practice a tough sport and I've admired them. Until now I thought the sporting spirit was the major guarantee that competition was fair. I know today that the letter of the law can replace its spirit and that one can play with the rules. So today I'm ashamed and perhaps tomorrow I'll have to ask my children not to go too far in sports competition." (Courcol stepped aside as race director later in the year, thus becoming the shortest-serving race director in the Tour's history.)
Jean-Marie Leblanc - who would be put in charge of the Tour after Courcol's departure (only after Hein Verbruggen was offered the gig but turned it down) - was also unhappy with the verdict: "The decision that has been taken will please the world of cycling, which has such sensitive skin, and perhaps the wider public, whose memory is short. But look deeper, and it's a dismal verdict. It rewards transgression, it encourages fraud, it lowers sport."
Nelson Paillou, head of the French Olympic committee, expressed his concern: "Delgado was doped. It doesn't matter that the drug isn't illegal yet for the UCI. That's a technicality. The drug is illegal and if he took it, he committed an illegal act."
Bernard Hinault gave his opinion: "The real problem is knowing why Delgado took the drug. Unfortunately, we'll certainly never get an answer. One thing that's sure, cycling didn't need this incident. I think cycling is the big loser, more than Delgado."
Andy Hampsten offered this: "Delgado knew the drug wasn't on the UCI list but he's in the yellow jersey and that carries a lot of responsibilities. The rider doesn't represent just his team. He has to take account of the fans. The Tour de France is the greatest race in the world and young kids follow it closely. I'm not a lawyer but it seems to me that the issue is clear: Delgado took a drug to mask steroids. It's not on the banned list but it's a masking drug and that's what the commissaries should have acknowledged. I think it's a crime to let him wear the yellow jersey, a crime against the public and against the sport."
Delgado didn't care. Nor did his directeur sportif, José-Miguel Echávarri. It's claimed that the Tour's commercial director, Xavier Louy, had approached Echávarri when the doping story first broke, asking him to withdraw Delgado from the race. There was some talk that it was Jacques Goddet, retired from his rôle as race director but still hanging around like a stale fart, who had leaked the news of Delgado's positive before it reached the rider, in an attempt to pressure him into withdrawing from the race. But, Echávarri figured, why should he? The rules were on Delgado's side, as Echávarri told reporters after Perico had been cleared: "Pedro didn't do anything wrong. What counts in this race are the rules of the UCI."
Perico had the Spanish media behind him. The same Spanish media who had been highly critical of him after his decision to ride the Giro d'Italia instead of his home Grand Tour earlier in the year. Marca, the Spanish sports daily, said "They want to take the yellow jersey away from us." On Spanish radio, one commentator dismissed the whole affaire thus: "This is just another whorish French plot!" Even the Spanish sports minister had lobbied the UCI on Delgado's behalf.
Perico did defend himself though. He told the media he was only looking after himself, following the advice of his doctor, François Bellocq: "Between Dr Bellocq and me, it's a question of trust. I have a problem with acid in my urine and we've been watching it for a long time."
It was Bellocq who Delgado had nominated to attend the testing of the B-sample on his behalf. But Bellocq, for some reason, sought to distance himself from Delgado, writing to l'Equipe that he hadn't treated the Spaniard. This was somewhat unusual. Bellocq was a doctor with a reputation and it's usually the dopers who try to publicly distance themselves from such doctors. This time, the doctor was distancing himself from the doper.
Bellocq had earned his reputation in the 1970s, when he was team doctor for Peugeot. Those were the days when Maurice de Muer was the unluckiest directeur sportif in Christendom: Jean-Pierre de Mondenard claims that, out of seventy positives between 1970 and 1978, De Muer's riders accounted for twenty-four. ("I can't have eyes in the back of my head to watch my riders twenty-four hours a day," De Muer claimed, in defence.)
In 1976, a Peugeot rider, Rachel Dard, got involved in a convoluted attempt to cheat a dope control that ultimately saw him racing a train from Dax to Paris in order to destroy evidence of his wrong-doing. When l'Equipe got hold of the story, Dard confessed, and produced a prescription Bellocq had written him for doping products. The biggest problem here was that, at the time, Bellocq wasn't a qualified doctor and shouldn't have been writing prescriptions. The French fed dropped Bellocq from its medical committee.
Bellocq stayed on with Peugeot but went independent in 1979. His client list included the great and the good of cycling, along with a few also rans: Bernard Hinault, Greg LeMond, Robert Millar, Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle, Jean-François Bernard, Ronan Pensec and Pascal Simon were just some of the riders who beat a path to the French doctor's door. In 1987 he was working with Roger Legeay at Z-Peugeot, and he again worked for Legeay, at GAN, shortly before his death in 1993.
Bellocq's speciality was hormone rebalancing therapy. In 1991, he published a book, Sport et Dopage - Le Grande Hypocrisie, which explained his thinking: "I believe that the limits of sports medicine amount to stopping an athlete from digging into his body's resources, and replenishing a body from which professional sport demands so much." That replenishing is where the problem arises.
Over the course of a stage race, a rider's testosterone levels will naturally fall. As will their levels of other hormones, such as cortisone or EPO. Bellocq advocated rebalancing those levels. Whatever the body naturally used and couldn't replace quick enough, well it was permissible to top that up to its natural levels.
In Sport et Dopage, Bellocq explained how he applied his beliefs to Tour riders during his time at Peugeot: "During the three-week Tour de France we proposed a treatment based on small quantities of suprarenal hormones after twelve days of competition. In our opinion the use of corticoids helps delay fatigue in professional riders. It's up to us to help these riders, who in effect are putting their health at risk." (It's probably just a coincidence that, in the 1988 Tour, the Grenoble to Villard de Lans time trial came after twelve days of competition.)
The problems with Bellocq's argument begin when you start to question how you draw the line between topping up to a natural level and over-filling the tank. What, in other words, is the difference between hormone rebalancing and doping? Bellocq, in Sport et Dopage, reached for a response to that question, arguing that the difference was the same as "the difference between the love of a good wine and alcoholism." (What is it with these doctors and their drink analogies? Michele Ferrari compared EPO to orange juice.)
Another failure in Bellocq's argument was that he didn't always know the full consequences of the drugs he administered. Consider the case of Bernard Thévenet, a Peugeot rider in the seventies and one of Bellocq's clients. Nanard won the Tour twice - in 1975 and 1977 - and both victories were shrouded in rumours of doping. Thévenet's testing positive at least three times between 1976 and 1977 didn't help dispel those rumours.
But it's after the 1977 Tour that Thévenet's story becomes relevant: he was hospitalised in 1978, diagnosed as having problems with his adrenal glands. While in hospital, he confessed to a journalist friend that he had doped. He later admitted the same to Pierre Chany at France-Vélo, highlighting the physical cost of his doping: "I've been doped with cortisone for three seasons. The result is visible now: I'm barely able to sit on a bike."
Generally though Bellocq's clients seem to agree with their doctor's theories. Consider, for instance, Bernard Hinault who - interviewed in 1988 for Tonus, a medical magazine - had this to say: "There should be systematic check-ups every month. That way the products that are forbidden now would be allowed, albeit in reasonable quantities. There are some hormones that could be used, no problem, as long as their use was in conjunction with a monthly medical check-up. I agree with Dr François Bellocq, who was my doctor, when it comes to these kinds of treatments."
Philippe Brunel interviewed le blaireau for l'Equipe in 1999 and asked if he favoured hormone rebalancing: "Yes, perhaps, with one condition, that it be strictly controlled. Hormones are given to bed-ridden elderly to regulate mineral levels so that they do not degrade too much, so why not? It's necessary to study the issue, to approach it with caution."
That interview also shows how the logic of hormone rebalancing seems to lead inexorably to blood doping. Here's Hinault on that subject: "[Francesco] Moser made use of auto-transfusion. So he was playing with his own blood. He did no more no less that the Finnish athletes, Lasse Viren and the others. It suffices to take some of one's own blood during the spring when it is rich, hyper-oxygenated, and to re-inject it when one is fatigued. Is that really doping? Maybe not, except if the blood is placed into a machine to re-oxygenate it to the maximum."
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Within the race itself, the peloton was in a fighting mood. Before the start of the stage from Clermont Ferrand to Chalon sur Saône - the morning after Delgado had been exonerated by the UCI - the directeurs sportifs banded together and staged a protest. It fell to Roger Legeay, directeur sportif of Z-Peugeot, to read a protest letter, which criticised the fact that journalists had the news of Delgado's positive before the rider himself had. The riders delayed the stage start for a symbolic ten minutes, the penalty that would have been imposed on Delgado had probenecid been on the UCI's banned list.
That, more or less, was the end of the affaire. Delgado rode into Paris in yellow and accepted the applause of the crowd as he was crowned the final victor. L'Equipe headlined his victory with more wordplay: Pericolossal! The Spanish government and the Spanish royal family congratulated their man. Hinault, even in retirement still the patron, gave Delgado his blessing: "Delgado toyed with his rivals, even in the high mountains. He's a classy rider and his victory pleases me." Perico put as positive a spin on his position as he could: "The French aren't holding this doping story against me. They understood at least that I didn't cheat."
Not everyone agreed with that. Figaro probably summed it up best: "It could be said that the victory is a denial of justice, a shame for cycling, which will probably pay the bill, a bigger one than the world of cycling imagines."
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So where's the UCI in this story, didn't they have something to say on the matter? They did, and it was said by their president, Luis Puig, the Spaniard who had once saved the Vuelta a España after the fed he led banned it from entering the Basque Country. Puig was interviewed by l'Equipe:
Puig: Delgado has not been found positive. There was an irregularity. The name of the product isn't on the banned list. The medical commissaire should have checked the name of the product against the UCI list and seen the substance wasn't on it. Thus Delgado would not have been declared positive.
L'Equipe: You're accusing Jean Court, the medical inspector named by your organisation?
Puig: No, it's the laboratory that should have checked the product.
L'Equipe: Why wasn't that done?
Puig: I can't tell you that. I don't know anything.
L'Equipe: Granted that Delgado didn't take a drug banned by the UCI. But do you, Luis Puig, believe that he didn't take a doping agent? Since probenecid is designed to mask steroids ...
Puig: And you yourself, can you testify to that? Has be taken the product to take care of himself or to mask his doping? If you answer yes to the second part, that's defamation.
L'Equipe: But in August, when the UCI medical commission meets at the World Championships in Belgium, the product Delgado used will be outlawed.
Puig: You cannot say that the product will be banned by the UCI in a month. You don't know that. The medical commission will meet and make its conclusions known.
A month later, the UCI's medical commission met at the Worlds in Belgium. As expected, they added probenecid to the banned list.
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In 1988, on each stage of the Tour the GC leader, the stage winner and two riders chosen at random were dope tested. The day before the Grenoble to Villard de Lans time trial, on which Delgado had tested positive for probenecid, the Spaniard had taken the yellow jersey on l'Alpe d'Huez. Accordingly, he was tested. It was later claimed that that test showed no probenecid. Nor, it was claimed, did any of the nine tests after Villard de Lans. Despite having admitted to having used probenecid, Delgado's defence changed: there was clearly something wrong with the tests. Isn't there always?
A year later, at the 1989 Tour, Delgado arrived in Luxembourg as the defending champion. Jean-Marie Leblanc was still seething at the way the Spaniard had sullied the race's reputation the year before. He wrote an article for l'Equipe, headlined The Rules of the Game. "Sport comes first," wrote Leblanc, "may the Tour de France no longer have to tolerate those who don't give it the respect it deserves."
Delgado managed to hamstring himself from the start of the 1989 Tour. He turned up late for the prologue, surrendering nearly three minutes before the race proper had even begun: the defending champ was now the lantern rouge. He compounded his problems the next day, tossing away another four minutes in the team time trial. Maybe there is a God after all.
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Sources: Sam Abt's In High Gear, which is a look at the world of cycling as seen through the prism of the 1989 season, is the best book I know of that covers the Delgado affaire. If you can find it second-hand, or via your local library service, read it. Most of Abt's daily reports, which form the basis of the book, are online at the NYT.
Geoffrey Nicholson's Le Tour, which looks at the world of cycling through the 1990 race, has the Gert-Jan Theunisse story in it. (For a book written in 1990 you might be surprised by what Nicholson has to say about EPO.) As with the Abt book, look for it second-hand or via your local library service.
For the skinny on François Bellocq, check out Richard Moore's excellent In Search of Robert Millar.
The PDM story is all covered online at CyclingNews.
Other online sources have been linked to where I could find them.