By Andrew Hood
French police are calling Cofidis rider Philippe Gaumont a central playerin the growing doping investigation that’s threatening to overwhelm cyclingbefore the start of the 2004 racing season.
According to a report in L’Equipe, Gaumont is said to be oneof the suppliers of EPO and other doping products that’s the center ofan investigation started last week when police questioned two former Cofidisriders — Marek Rutkiewicz and Robert Sassone – as well as a Cofidis soigneur,Bogdan Madejak. Gaumont also reportedly admitted to taking EPO, accordingto L’Equipe.
Gaumont and teammate Cedric Vasseur were taken by police for questioningTuesday evening as they returned from a team training camp in Spain. Vasseuris still being held by police but appears to have little role in the growingplot, but Gaumont’s fate could be grimmer. Gaumont was released, but remainsunder investigation.
According to investigators, Sassone allegedly admitted to taking dopingproducts and fingered Gaumont as his source of the products found in Sassone’shome in a raid last week. Police also searched Gaumont’s home, but theresults of the search are not yet known.
This is not the first time Gaumont has been linked to doping investigations.In 1996, he tested positive for nandroline and was linked to a 1999 investigationinto Frank Vandenbroucke. He was later suspended for six months after tracesof amphetamines were found in his urine.
Thierry Cazeneuve, president of the French Professional Cycling League,told Reuters Thursday he’s not surprised Gaumont’s name is linked to theinvestigation.
“I am appalled to hear that Philippe Gaumont is again caught up in this,”he said. “He tested positive in 1996, then again in 1997. He was investigatedin 1999 and again in 2003. What is he still doing here?”
Team captain and reigning world time trial champion David Millar distancedhimself from the growing scandal, insisting that the investigation “isnot a Cofidis problem, and it’s certainly got nothing to do with me.”
“I can’t really comment on the latest developments, and I’ve no ideawho has been questioned,” Millar told AFP on Wednesday. “But I’m surprisedto hear about police questioning Philippe and Cédric – I know bothof them and get on really well with them. It’s strange, very strange. Thepress is implying all sorts of things but I know it’s not a Cofidis problem.I repeat what I told the press last week, that it’s isolated cases in theteam, but not a team problem.”
Asked if he thought the furor could be compared in to the Festina affairat the 1998 Tour de France, Millar responded: “Oh God, no way! There’sno way it’s anything like that.”
Team manager Alain Bondue said if investigations reveal deeper teaminvolvement, Cofidis will likely leave cycling.
“If there was a network of banned products in Cofidis, and that we didnot notice it or did not take actions to stop it, frankly, that would bepartly our fault and it would be better to stop the team,” Bondue toldL’Equipe. “I am anxious because this could lead to the end of Cofidis.That would be logical and normal.”
Dopers ‘killing cycling’
Cycling is in danger of being destroyed by a generation of dope cheats,the president of the French Professional Cycling League told Reuters onThursday.
In an interview with Reuters, Thierry Cazeneuve said current regulationsin French cycling were inadequate and too many drug-taking riders wereescaping detection.
“It is time for a generation of riders to go away before they kill cycling,”Cazeneuve said. “I think some are twisted enough to lead astray some ofthe younger riders.”
The latest scandal to engulf the sport centres on the Cofidis team andFrench sports minister Jean-Francois Lamour has summoned cycling chiefsto a meeting on Friday to discuss the crisis ahead of the Athens Olympics.
Cazeneuve accepted that the cycling authorities’ efforts to combat dopinghad failed.
“The fight against doping led by the federation is inadequate, as eventshave shown,” he said. “Since 1999, there have been more and more tests,and blood tests. Everyone passes through the net, which means the net isn’tworking.
“We need tougher sanctions that act as deterrents. It is time for unannouncedtests — tests at home, tests in training and during (race) stages. Maybethen the net would work better.””
Cazeneuve called for the co-ordination of sanctions at a European level.
“France cannot, alone, ban a rider for two years because if he goesto the CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland), he’svery likely to win,” he said. “A rider cannot, on his own, manipulate substances. It means he is helped by scientists.
“We have to find these people, because in France, you do not get EPO(the blood-boosting drug erythropoietin) on prescription.… It istime for Italy and Spain to start working on this.”