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Tour de France

Tour de France: ‘No one wants to go back’ to the chaos of the Festina Affair from 1998 

Raids appear focused solely on Bahrain Victorious so far at Tour de France, but teams worry of impact of more police action.

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NYBORG, Denmark (VN) — Fears that the 2022 Tour de France could descend into chaos similar to the infamous Festina Affair of 1998 seem unfounded.

Drugs raids and police searches that made headlines this week appear solely focused on Bahrain Victorious so far during the 2022 Tour. Importantly, no charges have been filed and team officials insist they’ve done nothing wrong.

Meanwhile, several riders and managers from teams across the peloton told VeloNews they have not been searched or questioned by police in the opening days of the 2022 Tour, confirming that the high-profile raids appear to be singling out Bahrain Victorious.

“If you hear what happened again a few days ago everyone is in a bit of a shock, because everyone remembers very well this Tour from 1998,” Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl manager Patrick Lefevere told VeloNews. “Nobody wants to go back there.”

Also read:

The return of police raids are reminding some of the worst headlines from 1998.

Yet there appear to be important distinctions from other police-style raids that have long blighted the peloton to what is unfolding around Bahrain Victorious.

Europol officials confirmed the BahrainVictorious raids are targeted police operations based on intelligence of suspected wrong-doing within the team.

French authorities issued search warrants that led to raids in six nations earlier this week. On Thursday, authorities searched Bahrain Victorious hotels and vehicles here at the Tour in a morning raid at 5:30 a.m. Police are currently testing medicinal products rounded up in searches this week in Denmark.

Representatives from other teams express concern about the raids, but say that modern cycling has nothing to hide.

“The only thing that I hope for is that there is absolutely nothing there, and the image of our sport keeps consolidating itself like it has over the past several years,” Movistar general Eusebio Unzue told VeloNews. “Everything’s changed and everyone respects the values. We are very far from the period of everything that happened before.”

In the 1990s and early 2000s, police searches became synonymous with the Tour de France.

French police would regularly stop and search team hotels and vehicles. The 1998 Tour descended into absolute chaos when authorities nearly brought the Tour to a stop as dozens of teams were searched and riders and staffers arrested in the darkest depths of the Festina Affaire.

In the following decade or so, police raids became a regular part of the cycling landscape. From Operación Puerto in Spain, to raids in Italy and Belgium, as well as high-profile scandals each July, police raids and searches were inexorably linked to the Tour.

Raids, however, zeroed out during much of the past decade as the peloton reportedly cleaned up its collective act. Stricter laws which made doping in sport a felony sport were enacted across Europe during the past few decades, providing an important deterrent to would-be dopers.

Lefevere said despite the current headlines the peloton is working in the right way. 

“We have two suitcases full of drugs, to heal if somebody is sick, but nothing forbidden, of course. You should be crazy to do those stupid things,” he said.

“This is the second or third time that they do something, but I do not know. You are innocent until the opposite is proven, but it’s not to me to criticize other teams,” Lefevere said. “Of course, it’s not good for cycling. Still people are looking to gain publicity during the biggest race in the world. I am not surprised, but I do not like it.

“I hear at Rolland Garros it seemed everybody had COVID, but no one was talking about this. Everyone speaks about omertà in cycling, but other sports who have omertà, not us. There is nobody who speaks more than cyclists.”

Speaking to media on Friday, UCI president David Lappartient said he “welcomed” the police action.

“I welcome this high-level collaboration,” Lappartient said. “Afterwards, it will be for the police and the judge to decide, just to show that the riders and the teams, nobody is outside the rules and the different laws. We will continue to fight against doping.”