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Virenque returns to racing

French champion Didier Rous won the oldest criterium in France Wednesday, but it was the comeback of Richard Virenque that grabbed all the headlines in Quillan. The 31-year-old Virenque, who in October at the Festina drugs trial admitted to systematic doping, then was suspended for nine months, finished fourth behind Rous, Florent Brard and third-placed Stephane Goubert. Although failing to win the 63-year-old event, which he won in 1997 and 1999, Virenque said he had paid his dues and was excited at the prospect of competing again. "I've paid my price and done my bit for cycling, now

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By VeloNews Interactive Wire Services, Copyright AFP 2001

French champion Didier Rous won the oldest criterium in France Wednesday, but it was the comeback of Richard Virenque that grabbed all the headlines in Quillan.

The 31-year-old Virenque, who in October at the Festina drugs trial admitted to systematic doping, then was suspended for nine months, finished fourth behind Rous, Florent Brard and third-placed Stephane Goubert.

Although failing to win the 63-year-old event, which he won in 1997 and 1999, Virenque said he had paid his dues and was excited at the prospect of competing again.

“I’ve paid my price and done my bit for cycling, now it’s up to other riders to play their part,” Virenque said. “I’m happy to have the chance to get back to doing my job and to come back to France. I’m really excited at the prospect of competing again.”

The darling of the cycling-mad French public after winning the Tour de France climber’s jersey five times, Virenque escaped UCI sanctions last October. However, on December 29 he was handed a nine-month ban by Swiss authorities because he was at that time based in Geneva and affiliated to the Swiss Cycling Federation.

His Belgian Domo team — which has taken him on an initial three-month contract — failed in their appeal to have the ban shortened by a few hours to allow him to join the Tour of Denmark, which began on August 14.

After missing the Tour de France in July, Virenque’s season is just beginning. His real test will come on his first competitive stage race of the year, the Tour of Burgos in Spain. He will then ride the World Cup Zurich event before tackling the Tour of Spain. If all goes well Virenque could make the French national team for October’s world championships in Portugal.

“I’ve been thinking about the world championships ever since I got back on my bike,” said Virenque. “A dream was born in my mind when I was wondering what I could do to really signal my comeback.”

Copyright AFP 2001