Farce of the fifth “win”

Almost five years after the 2003 Tour de France had ended, RIDE Cycling Review published a story by Jean-François Quenet that examined the result of the centenary edition of the world’s biggest bike race. Even then, over 20 riders who had been in the peloton that year had been suspended from racing or were implicated in one doping scandal or another. While we wait to find out how the UCI manages the fall-out of the USADA’s “Reasoned Decision”, here is a reminder of what was once perceived as a great race… alas, much of it was a farce.

There have been some readers responding to our retrospective online posts, suggesting that it’s best that we “move on” and stop with our reminders of the past. Those requests have been noted and, as RIDE has always done, there’ll be plenty of reminders in future editions of the magazine about all the benefits of cycling, and the beauty of the sport. But, less than a week since the USADA released its scathing document, it’s too early to just move on. For all the good that cycling offers, there’s also plenty of bad and we’ll continue to recognise this and (proudly) republish stories that are relevant to a particularly dirty era… (Rob)



Flashback to RIDE #39 (published January 2008). 

Shame of the century

By Jean-François Quenet


As we approach the five year anniversary of the Tour de France’s centenary celebrations Jean-François Quenet reminds us that what was once perceived as a wonderful edition of the race was really a terribly tainted one.

Cycling is actually kind of hard to understand at times. You look at a race, you think the winner is great, but only time will tell if the performance is honest of if you’ve been taken for a ride. Sometimes it will be 10 years before you figure out who was doped and who wasn’t. There are numerous examples to illustrate this, but let’s take a look back at what was considered by many at the time to be one of the most exciting events in years, the centenary edition of the Tour de France.

It was fairly obvious that Bjarne Riis wasn’t clean when he won the 1996 Tour even though he denied the evidence until 25 May 2007. He only made his public confession to doping when it was necessary to save his role as manager of Team CSC.

Riis was one of the stars of the parade that took place on the Champs-Élysées after the final stage of the 2003 Tour de France. Apart from Marco Pantani, who was in a psychiatric hospital a little over six months prior to his tragic death, all the surviving former winners were introduced to the public in Paris. One after the other they were presented as they rode in historic vehicles as part of the 100 year celebrations of the biggest race of all along the most prestigious avenue in the world.

That day the sport of cycling looked to have revived itself after five years of struggle following the shame of the Festina scandal and its surrounding controversies.


(The original caption) “Honestly: hand on my heart… Unlike his two podium companions at the finish of the 2003 Tour de France, Lance Armstrong made it to the end of his career without any definitive proof that he had deliberately doped. There were close calls but he escaped relatively unscathed, especially when compared to the sad demise of both Jan Ullrich and Alexandre Vinokourov. When this trio stood on the podium on the last day of Le Tour’s centenary edition they were lauded as entertaining combatants in a wonderful contest.”


The centenary was a huge success. All over the country, history was celebrated. The route returned to the cities that had hosted the first race in 1903. Starting with a prestigious prologue won by Brad McGee under the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the race travelled to Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux and Nantes. It was extremely creative. The Australian’s team played up to the occasion: La Française des Jeux appeared on the presentation stage at the town hall of Paris wearing jerseys in styles from a bygone era, showing a century of cycling fashion.

The contest was outstanding as well. There’s no doubt that it was the greatest of the seven Armstrong victories.

There was drama in the prologue when David Millar lost to McGee because of a mechanical failure. There was emotion when Baden Cooke won the stage in Sedan. There were masterpieces of sprinting from Alessandro Petacchi as he put together four wins in the year when the team of the true Italian star of sprinting Mario Cipollini was left behind, officially because the course didn’t suit sprinters.

Tyler Hamilton was admired for his fighting spirit when he continued to race despite breaking a collarbone in stage one. Victor Hugo Peña was celebrated as the first ever Colombian to wear the yellow jersey following the first win of the US Postal squad in the team time trial. Richard Virenque put on a display of heroism to take over GC as he rode solo to Morzine.

The climb to L’Alpe d’Huez in stage eight was better than ever with attacks being launched in a rapid volley of aggressive shots: six surges from Joseba Beloki, Hamilton went five times, then Alexandre Vinokourov tried, and finally the eventual knock-out blow was thrown by stage winner Ibàn Mayo.

Beloki’s fighting spirit was more impressive the next day but it ended in spectacular drama as he crashed heavily while descending the Col de la Rochette, forcing Armstrong to perform an impromptu cyclo-cross manoeuvre. ‘Vino’ would win that day and it would become one more tribute to his compatriot and friend Andrei Kivilev who’d died four months earlier because of injuries sustained in a crash during Paris-Nice.

The second part of the Tour in 2003 was even better. Personalities from the US like actors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Robbin Williams were there in support of Lance Armstrong alongside French NBA player Tony Parker, the icon of Armstrong’s local team in Texas, the San Antonio Spurs. There was a crucial individual time trial in the Tarn where the temperature was 61 degrees celsius at road level at the base of the starting ramp and 38 in the air.



Jan Ullrich claimed his first stage win after five years and extracted one minute and 36 seconds out of Armstrong’s advantage. The Texan really suffered that day. It was the prelude to some fantastic battles in the Pyrenees when Ullrich came to within 15 seconds of Armstrong’s overall time. He did so despite numerous tactical mistakes which also allowed an aggressive Vino to within 18 seconds of the yellow jersey. There was the drama of Armstrong crashing with Mayo at the base of Luz Ardiden the day before the heroic 90km long solo ride by Hamilton who won stage 17 in Bayonne.

Towards the end Armstrong and Ullrich even fought for bonus seconds in a sprint during a flat stage before the final time trial where the German crashed and Millar was compensated for his missed opportunity in the prologue by winning the final race against the clock in Nantes. For the green jersey, the battle had never been so tight. The shoulder-to-shoulder effort that allowed Cooke to grab the title from Robbie McEwen on the Champs-Élysées was the icing on the cake. A fitting finale. Even French pride was restored on the last day when Jean-Patrick Nazon won the stage.

Everything was perfect. One hundred years of the Tour were celebrated and legendary winners – from Ferdi Kübler to Lance Armstrong – were there to be paraded in front of an adoring public on the final day in Paris.

There was just the rumour of a positive dope test and, yes, it  did prove to be true. Javier Pascual Llorente of Kelme got busted for EPO. He complained that the test wasn’t accurate yet the organisers didn’t agree with his take; they were content to say that his failure proved the doping controls were efficient. The fairy tale was preserved.

Less than five years later the dark underside of the story of the wonderful centennial casts a heavy shadow on cycling.

Virenque didn’t begin his attack to Morzine on his own. He was accompanied by Jesus Manzano but the Spaniard collapsed on the roadside. It was extremely scary: one moment he was matching the pace of the Frenchman, the next he was lying motionless on the ground. He looked like death. He was rescued by the medical entourage and sent to hospital. That was the last race of his career, aged 25.

A few months later Manzano would tell the truth about doping at his Kelme team. He described the blood transfusions he’d received, something that hadn’t yet made the headlines.



The use of cortisone in cycling had been in evidence since the late 1970s. Even Armstrong went positive for it during the 1999 Tour before being presented a special favour from the UCI, an exemption to cover the drug’s use thanks to a prescription that was retrospectively accepted.

The use of erythropoietin (EPO) was common knowledge following the death of some Dutch cyclists in the late 1980s and the start of the domination of the Italians in the early 1990s. There had been talk about growth hormone since the mid-90s but no test yet. Manzano was the first athlete to make the practice of transfusions public in 2004. The EPO test was yielding positive results but there was a downside: it had brought an old blood doping method back into vogue.

Manzano was castigated by the cycling community. One of the first to step forward to denigrate his confessions was Hein Verbruggen. The Dutchman had been in charge of the UCI since 1991, too long for him to be able to surrender the power he enjoyed during a period of immense change for the sport. He was replaced by Pat McQuaid of Ireland in September 2005 but still remained in the role of vice-president.

The testimony of the Spanish rider led to Operación Puerto and the fall of Kelme’s former team doctor Eufemiano Fuentes as well as Manolo Saiz, the dictatorial boss of the team known as ONCE and Liberty Seguros.

In the 2003 Tour, Jan Ullrich, Ivan Basso, Joseba Beloki, Roberto Heras (at the service of Armstrong), Tyler Hamilton, Santiago Botero and Francisco Mancebo were shining in the mountains. They all ended up in the files of Fuentes. During the recent inquiry it was proven that, in 2003, Ullrich was already being treated by the Spanish doper.



In August 2005, after his last race, “le mensonge Armstrong” – “Armstrong’s lies” – were revealed on the front page of L’Equipe. Damien Ressiot, an enquiring journalist, produced evidence that the Texan was on EPO when he won his first Tour de France in 1999. It doesn’t mean he was doped for the following six years, but who of the GC contenders of the wonderful 2003 race didn’t get busted?

Armstrong’s right-hand man Floyd Landis did. In 2006 he became the first Tour winner to later be disqualified for drug use. He always denied the use of testosterone and thus hasn’t admitted to the world whether he started doping when he joined the Phonak squad in 2005 or if he learned the task in the previous team he rode for, US Postal.

Jan Ullrich came second in the wonderful 2003 edition of the Tour de France. Busted in 2006.

Alexandre Vinokourov was third in 2003. Busted in 2007.

Tyler Hamilton was fourth in 2003. Busted in 2004.

Haimar Zubeldia came fifth in 2003. He has never been busted personally… but his team’s doctor, Jesus Losa, was named by David Millar as his doper in 2004 and Euskaltel had no choice but fire him.

During his comeback as a performer of note at the highest level, with Saunier Duval in 2007, Mayo went positive for testosterone after a stage win at the Giro d’Italia but got cleared. He also tested positive for EPO at the Tour and the results of the B-sample analysis are yet to be finalised.

Ivan Basso came seventh in 2003. Busted in 2006.

Who else? David Millar is a good example of how the doping culture was widespread in cycling only five years after the Festina Affair had forced the French teams – with the exception of  Cofidis – to put in place anti-doping policies.

The Scotsman was arrested at a restaurant near his house in Biarritz on 23 June 2004. Unlike others, he eventually felt compelled to tell the truth. Had he not had a mechanical problem during the prologue of the wonderful 2003 Tour de France, he would have beaten McGee who rode clean at FDJ. Millar was on EPO and growth hormones. He explained the influence at Cofidis of Italian rider Massimiliano Lelli who finished 15th in the wonderful 2003 Tour de France.

Millar made it clear that Dr Losa was his doping adviser. His 2003 time trial world title was retrospectively awarded to the runner-up, Michael Rogers, but the Scot remains on record as the winner of the 2003 Tour’s epic penultimate stage from Pornic to Nantes. He testified about unknown drugs provided by Losa that he injected for this stage (as did Lelli, as he later told the police), the remains of which were given by the team doctor to team-mate Philippe Gaumont the next day for the stage to the Champs-Elysées.

Gaumont was the enfant terrible of French cycling. He was busted for nandrolone in 1996 and 1998 and implicated with Frank Vandenbroucke in a doping affair in 1999. He told his story in his book Prisonnier du Dopage published in May 2005. An interesting section described how, to get authorisation to take cortisone, the team doctor would prescribe medication containing the substance for a fictitious ailment.

That was for the wonderful 2003 Tour in which a rider called Médéric Clain, whose vague origins from Réunion boosted the Tour’s audience on the French island colony, lined up for Cofidis. The guy was a rookie. He was willing to go on the attack and earned himself some interest in the local media.

After Gaumont, but before Millar, he also got caught in the infamous Cofidis affair that exploded in January 2004 following the arrest of their former Polish team-mate Marek Rutkiewicz who was caught carrying doping products at a Paris airport. Clain explained that he had purchased drugs from a Kazakh dealer, Oleg Kozlitine, who acted as a directeur sportif for the small French outfit Oktos, but he never used them. Gaumont also wrote in his book that Clain would “talk about drugs just to not look stupid in the team”.

Gaumont was adamant that the world of cycling – himself included – had missed the very real opportunity presented in 1998 to change the doping culture. “But everybody thought of their own interest first,” he wrote.

Jörg Jaksche was a 22-year-old novice in the 1998 Tour de France where he showed interesting promise and finished 18th overall. He also played an important role in the wonderful 2003 Tour. He attacked a few times in stage nine, preparing for the surges of his team-mate Beloki on the day he crashed heavily in front of Armstrong. “I’ve experienced doping in all the teams I’ve been in,” Jaksche said in confessions to the German media during 2007.

He rode for Polti, Telekom, ONCE, CSC and Liberty Seguros before finally being toppled in Operación Puerto. The testimony cost Gianluigi Stanga, Jaksche’s boss at Polti, his position as manager of the Milram team. All of his other former bosses and sponsors have disappeared from cycling for now except for the Danish team and its owner; Bjarne Riis threatened him on the phone when the German rider started talking openly about his experiences of doping.

As of 2007, Riis has disappeared from the official history books on the page about the 1996 Tour. He will no longer be invited to ceremonies like that at the end of the wonderful 2003 Tour de France. The myth of the yellow jersey ended in 1995 with Miguel Indurain. Riis (1996), Ullrich (1997), Pantani (1998), Armstrong (1999-2005), Landis (2006) and Michael Rasmussen – who was the true sovereign in 2007 before being expelled – have respectively put an end to the legend of the giants of the road.

The Tour de France remains a great human adventure but its centennial was a total sham.

– By Jean-François Quenet


The might who fell: casualties since 2003

From the list of 198 riders in the centenary Tour there are many who have since either served suspensions because of failed tests and investigations or admitted using drugs. Here are 20 starters in 2003 implicated in doping… (Note: there have been more since, and different charges laid against others but the list below is what was published in the original story in January 2008.)

• Roberto Heras (ESP) US Postal. Positive for EPO, 2004 Vuelta. Suspended & stripped of title.

• Floyd Landis (USA) US Postal. Postive for testosterone, 2006 Tour. Suspended & stripped of title.

• Joseba Beloki (ESP) ONCE-Eroski. Never returned to Tour after crash but was at the presentation in 2006 as part of Manolo Saiz’s ‘new’ Astana team.

• Jorg Jaksche (GER) ONCE-Eroski. Admitted to doping in all teams of his career & suspended in 2006 after implication in Operación Puerto.

• Tyler Hamilton (USA) Team CSC. Positive for homogulous blood tranfusion 2004 Vuelta, suspended. Also positive in equivalent test after winning Olympic title; B-sample faulty, keeps gold medal.

• Santiago Botero (COL) Telekom. Suspended in 2006 after implication in Operación Puerto.

• Rolf Aldag (GER) Telekom. Admitted to doping during his career at a press conference in May 2007.

• Matthias Kessler (GER) Telekom. Positive for testosterone, April 2007. Suspended & sacked by Astana.

• Alexandre Vinokourov (KAZ) Telekom. Positive for homogulous blood tranfusion, 2007 Tour. Suspended & sacked by Astana.

• Erik Zabel (GER) Telekom. Admitted to doping during his career at a press conference in May 2007.

• Francisco Mancebo (ESP) iBanesto. Suspended in 2006 after implication in Operación Puerto.

• Ivan Basso (ITA) Fassa Bortolo. Suspended in 2007 after implication in Operación Puerto.

• Danilo Di Luca (ITA) Saeco. Suspended in 2007 after implication in Oil For Drugs

• David Millar (GBR) Cofidis. Suspended in 2004 after admitting to using EPO after arrest.

• Philippe Gaumont (FRA) Cofidis. Suspended in 2004 after implication in Cofidis affair.

• Massimiliano Lelli (ITA) Cofidis. Suspended in 2004 after implication in Cofidis affair.

• Jesus Manzano (ESP) Kelme. Eliminated after crashing out of Tour in 2007 because – by later admission – of faulty blood transfusions. Explains the many doping methods used in the peloton to the Spanish media. Is both ostracized & admired for his very public stance.

• Jan Ullrich (GER) Bianchi. Suspended in 2006 after implication in Operación Puerto. Refuses to admit to doping but fails DNA test with blood seized in Spanish raids. Retires in 2007.

• Eddy Mazzoleni (ITA) Sidermec. Retires in 2007 after implication in Operación Puerto.

• Iban Mayo (ESP) Euskaltel-Euskadi. Positive for testosterone, 2007 Giro. (Control rendered void. No action.) Positive for EPO, 2007 Tour. Suspended & sacked by Saunier Duval.

(NOTE: There are others from the peloton in 2003 who could be on this list but there are also numerous unresolved investigations. This list includes riders who have been forced to alter their career direction because of their involvement with doping. Some are racing again & are vocal opponents of drug use.)


RIDE Media publishes RIDE Cycling Review, a quarterly magazine all about cycling.
RIDE Cycling Review is now available in a digital format via Zinio.


Author: rob@ride

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