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Disgraced climber hopes to be at Vuelta
By VeloNews Interactive wire services, copyright AFP2001
Disgraced French cyclist Richard Virenque has inked a deal to ride for the Belgian Domo team when his doping ban ends next month, his agent told the French wire service AFP on Thursday.
The Swiss Cycling Federation (FSC) suspended the five-time Tour de France King of the Mountains for nine months last December after he had admitted to taking performance-enhancing drugs.
The former Festina rider, who is currently without a team and has not competed for 10 months, will be free to race again in mid-August, in time to compete in the Tour of Spain and finish out the season with Domo. “The Italian team Alexia made a concrete offer which took into account Richard’s ranking,” his agent said. “But for Richard it was vital that he could race in the Vuelta. He made a sporting decision above all.”
The Belgian team, managed by Patrick Lefevere, includes world champion Romans Vainsteins of Latvia and Belgian Johan Museeuw. Lefevere said he hoped the acquisition of Virenque would add yet another dynamic rider to the team’s impressive roster.
“Everyone knows that I love attack-minded cycling. I’ve always liked Richard for that. All it took was two conversations and he persuaded me of his desire,” he said.
Domo’s budget for the year is already accounted for, meaning low wages for the former Festina and Polti rider, but Virenque is just happy to be back on the competitive saddle.
“It won’t be a contract worthy of (Juventus and France midfielder) Zinedine Zidane, but I’ve got everything to prove again. I want to show them (Domo) what I can do.”
Unlike most of his teammates on the infamous 1998 Festina squad, Virenque held out, consistently denying he had ever taken performance-enhancing drugs. But last October, during the trial that resulted from the 1998 Tour de France drug scandal, Virenque broke down and confessed that he had indeed used drugs.
Although he was not subject to criminal charges, he was banned from cycling by the cycling federation in Switzerland where he was based.