___Race Snippets


85th Tour de France 1998


By Barry Boyce CyclingRevealed Historian













Another Tour de France Drug Scandal

BREAKING NEWS:  Thursday, July 9, 1998, three days before the departure of the Tour de France (TdF), the Festina team car was stopped at a Belgium/France border crossing near Lille. Custom officers stopped Willy Voet, the sougneur for Festina, with a very large amount of EPO (Erythropoietin) and over 400 bottles and ampules of other performance enhancing products. Police at the border detained Voet for questioning.  Race director Jean-Marie Leblanc said no sanctions would be issued until an investigation had been performed. “When the investigation is finished,” added Leblanc, “we will be able to act.” As the dark cloud of the “Festina Affair” began to spread over France, the Tour prepared to start in Dublin, Ireland on Saturday.

Defending champion Jan Ullrich entered the race as the strong favorite to repeat his TdF victory. Banesto’s Abraham Olano, winner of the recent Vuelta a Cataluna, and Italian Marco Pantani, winner of the 1998 Giro d’Italia, were both prepared to present a strong challenge.

1998 Tour de France Timeline

Saturday-Monday, July 11-13, 1998- GAN’s time trial specialist Chris Boardman captured the prologue win in Dublin. The Brit finished the 5.6 km course in 6’12”, 4 second faster than Abraham Olano and 5 seconds ahead of the defending champion, Jan Ullrich. Sprinters controlled the two stages around the Irish countryside, with Tom Steels (Bel) and Jan Svorada (Cze) gaining the stage wins.

Tuesday/Wednesday, July 14-15, 1998- (14th - Bastille Day) Upon the Tour’s return to France, the drug scandal continued to develop. Police detained Festina director Bruno Roussel and team doctor Eric Ryckaert after the stage 4 finish in Cholet. Prior to the start of stage 5 in Cholet, three Festina riders, Richard Virenque, Laurent Dufaux, and Laurent Brochard, held a press conference to declare their intention to continue the race even if team director can’t return. The pressure of the scandal began to mount on Jean-Marie Leblanc, who had taken no action against the riders of Festina. 

Thursday/Friday, July 16-17, 1998- The Tour waits for no one. In the shadow of the ever-growing investigation, the race did continue. “Super Mario” Cipollini won two sprint finishes in Chateauroux and Brive-La Gaillarde. The two-day interlude did not stop the investigation. Long into the night investigators and Tour officials discussed the emerging revelations. Bruno Roussel issued a statement taking full responsibility for systematic drug use among Festina riders. Cyclings governing body, the UCI, suspended Roussel’s cycling license after he failed to properly respond to inquiries by the French Cycling Federation. At 23:00 (11 PM) the night of the 17th, Jean-Marie Leblanc announced the expulsion of the entire Festina team. The disqualification included Richard Virenque, Laurent Brochard, Laurent Dufaux, Pascal Herve, Armin Meier, Christophe Moreau, Didier Rous, Neil Stephens, and Alex Zulle.

Saturday, July 18, 1998- The first opportunity to displace the sprinters from the top of the General Classification came on stage 7. Jan Ullrich cruised over the 56 km time trial course in 1h15’25”.  Americans Tyler Hamilton and Bobby Julich were second and third respectively, 1’10” and 1’18” behind the strong German. 

Tuesday/Wednesday, July 21-22, 1998- The Tour headed into the climbing stages of the Pyrenees Mountains. Italian Rodolfo Massi broke away from an elite group of climbers to win stage 10. Race leader Jan Ullrich finished 59 second behind and retained his Maillot Jaune. The second day of Pyrenees climbing featured the hors categorie climb to the finish on the Plateau de Beille. Suiss Roland Meier attacked over the summit of the third (of five) climbs and started the final 16 km climb to Plateau de Beille alone in front of the race. When the chase group arrived at the base of the climb race leader Ullrich suffered an untimely puncture. By the time he rejoined the lead group Marco Pantani had gone off the front in pursuit of Meier. Ullrich, in panic mode, was left to set the pace of the dwindling group. Pantani caught and passed Meier near the summit to win the stage. Ullrich finished 1’40” behind in 8th place, but again retained the Maillot Jaune. 

Thursday, July 23, 1998- During the rest day in Plateau de Beille the ongoing investigation turned to the Dutch TVM team. In March French customs agents stopped the TVM team truck with large quantity of banned substances. Team director Cees Priem claimed the team was clean and did not know source of the illegal drugs. TVM team was allowed to start the Tour. In Plateau de Beille Cees Priem and the team doctor were detained for questioning. 

Friday, July 24, 1998- The riders left the Town of Tarascon sur Ariege for the start of stage 12 under a controlled start. When the riders reached the actual start line, 16 km outside the City, the official start-flag dropped, but the peloton stopped. The teams were sending a message in protest of the rider treatment during the doping investigation. For two hours the riders sat in the road. Jean-Marie Leblanc had discussions with rider representative Laurent Jalabert and team managers to resolve the issues. At approximately 13:30 (1:30 PM) the Tour resumed the race. Laurent Jalabert, shortly after the re-start, broke away with his brother Nicolas and Bart Voskamp. For 130 km the sprinter’s teams chased the breakaway.  Once caught, 25 km from the finish line, the ever-aggressive Jacky Durand launched an attack and escaped with Thierry Gouvenou. The duo was caught 300 meters from the line and Tom Steels won the mass sprint for the stage win.

After the stage the riders met late into the night to discuss the upcoming stages. Tour officials wrestled with the TVM matter in a separate meeting, as the investigation expanded. Riders and teams were abandoning the Tour in large numbers.

Monday, July 27, 1998- The Tour entered the first of three days in the Alps. The 189 km race route included three major (2 HC, 1 cat. 2) climbs prior to the finishing climb of the category 1 Les Deux Alpes. Everyone was watching Italian climber Marco Pantani as the 18.3 km ascent of the Col du Galibier began. Pantani’s pace early on the climb blew the peloton apart. An elite group of ten formed around Pantani, including race leader Ullrich and American Bobby Julich, as the group set out in pursuit of a 2-rider breakaway. Over the top of the Galibier, a solo Pantani had dropped all the contenders and drove hard toward the finishing climb. Only two riders were able to reconnect on the descent.

At the foot of the Les Deux Alpes, Pantani’s diminished group had over a 4-minute lead on the Ullrich group. Climbing brilliantly, Pantani bolted ahead of his two breakaway companions shortly after the climb started and rode alone across the finish line for the stage win. A struggling Ullrich, being paced by teammates Bjarne Riis and Udo Bolts, finished more than 6’40” behind Pantani. The race lead passed to the diminutive Italian climber. American Bobby Julich held on to second place in the GC.

Tuesday, July 28, 1998- The 204 km stage 16 from Vizille to Albertville, saw a determined Jan Ullrich tried to take back some of the time he lost on stage 15.  Ullrich’s ultimate attack shattered the peloton, but he could not shake Pantani. In Albertville the German took the stage win with Pantani in a very close second place.

Hours after the stage, the police searched the hotel rooms of the riders. Riders from the Dutch TVM team were taken to the Albertville hospital for medical tests, including blood, urine, and hair samples. 

Wednesday, July 29, 1998- Stage 17, the peloton left Albertville at a pedestrian 24 km/h pace. The riders stopped en masse at the first intermediate sprint to protest rider treatment. After a number of lengthy meetings with Tour officials, the race continued at a very slow speed. To protest the riders all pealed off their numbers (a symbolic abandonment) and crossed the finish line in Aix les Bains two hours behind schedule.  The peloton was lead by all the TVM riders with their hands joined and arms raised.

A jury of UCI (cycling’s governing body) officials declared the stage annulled (neutralized by rider protest) and decided to allow the riders who cross the finish line to continue the Tour.  Those who abandoned prior to the finish were not permitted to start stage 18. Jean-Marie Leblanc remained determined to get the 1998 Tour to Paris on Sunday.

Thursday, July 30, 1998- Team and rider abandonment continued during stage 18. Polti’s Luc Leblanc dropped out of the Tour along with the remaining riders from Kelme and Vitalicio Seguros. Casino’s Rodolfo Massi, the current holder of the Maillot Pois (Polka Dot Jersey), did not start stage 18 because of lengthy police questioning. ONCE’s team doctor Nicolas Terrados is also detained for questioning. 

Friday, July 31, 1998- Both Massi (corticoids were found in his hotel room) and Terrados (banned drugs were found on the ONCE bus) were arrested and officially placed under police investigation. The remaining riders from the TVM team, fearing detention upon return to France, did not start stage 19 from La Chaux de Fonds (Sui) to Autun (Fra). There were only 14 of the original 21 teams, and 96 riders left in the race.

With rumors flying, the Telekom team came to the start line only 5 minutes before the starter’s flag dropped. Initial reports had Telekom abandoning and heading back to German. However, with Zabel in the Maillot Vert and Ullrich in third place overall, the team made the decision to continue. 

The stage was raced with no change in the GC. Most riders preferred not to attack and wait for the 52 km ITT from Montceau les Mines to Le Creusot on Saturday.

Saturday, August 1, 1998- This stage was Jan Ullrich’s last chance to gain significant time on the race leader. The question being asked was, “could the German make up a 5’56” deficit to Pantani?”  Ullrich did win the stage, but Pantani, inspired by the Maillot Jaune, rode to a third place finish 2’35” behind.  Ullrich did beat Bobby Julich by 1’01” to move into second place overall.

Sunday, August 2, 1998- The difficult journey around France had finally arrived in Paris. An exhausted Jean-Marie Leblanc welcomed the site of the Arc de Triumph and the sprint down the Champs Elysees. 

Marco Pantani rode happily across the finish line to gain his first Tour de France victory. He became the first Italian champion in since Felice Gimonde in 1965 to gain the TdF championship. Pantani also became the 7th champion to achieve the Giro/Tour double victory in one year.

Stage and Distance

Stage Winner

Race Leader

Prologue Dublin (Ire), 5.6 km ITT

Chris Boardman (GBr)

Chris Boardman (GBr)

Stage 1 Circuit Dublin (Ire), 180 km

Tom Steels (Bel)

Chris Boardman (GBr)

Stage 2 Enniscorthy (Ire) to Cork (Ire), 205 km

Jan Svorada (Cze)

Erik Zabel (Ger)

Stage 3 Roscoff to Lorient, 169 km

Jens Heppner (Ger)

Bo Hamburger (Den)

Stage 4 Plouay to Cholet, 252 km

Jeroen Blijlevens (Ned)

Stuart O'Grady (Aus)

Stage 5 Cholet to Chateauroux, 228 km

Mario Cipollini (Ita)

Stuart O'Grady (Aus)

Stage 6 La Chatre to Brive La Gaillarde, 204 km

Mario Cipollini (Ita)

Stuart O'Grady (Aus)

Stage 7 Merygnac L’Eglise to Correze, 58 km ITT

Jan Ullrich (Ger)

Jan Ullrich (Ger)

Stage 8 Brive La Gaillarde to Montauban, 191 km

Jacky Durand (Fra)

Laurent Desbiens (Fra)

Stage 9 Montauban to Pau, 210 km

Leon Van Bon (Ned)

Laurent Desbiens (Fra)

Stage 10 Pau to Luchon, 196 km

Rodolfo Massi (Ita)

Jan Ullrich (Ger)

Stage 11 Luchon to Plateau de Beille, 170 km

Marco Pantani (Ita)

Jan Ullrich (Ger)

Stage 12 Tarascon to Le Cap d’Agde, 222 km

Tom Steels (Bel)

Jan Ullrich (Ger)

Stage 13 Frontignan la Peyrade to Capentras, 196 km

Daniele Nardello (Ita)

Jan Ullrich (Ger)

Stage 14 Valreas to Grenoble, 186 km

Stuart O'Grady (Aus)

Jan Ullrich (Ger)

Stage 15 Grenoble to Les Deux Alpes, 189 km

Marco Pantani (Ita)

Marco Pantani (Ita)

Stage 16 Vizille to Albertville, 204 km

Jan Ullrich (Ger)

Marco Pantani (Ita)

Stage 17 Albertville to Aix les Bains, [Neutralized-rider protest]


Stage 18 Aix les Bains to Neufchatel (Sui), 218 km

Tom Steels (Bel)

Marco Pantani (Ita)

Stage 19 La Chaux de Fonds (Sui) to Autun, 242 km

Magnus Backstedt (Swe)

Marco Pantani (Ita)

Stage 20 Montceau les Mines to Le Creusot, 52 km ITT

Jan Ullrich (Ger)

Marco Pantani (Ita)

Stage 21 Melun to Paris/Champs Elysees, 148 km

Tom Steels (Bel)

Marco Pantani (Ita)



PDJ Christophe Rinero (Fra)



GJ Erik Zabel (Ger)

TdF July 11-August 2, 1998
3,728 Km

1. Marco PANTANI (Ita) 92h49'46"

2. Jan Ullrich (Ger) +3'21"

3. Bobby Julich (USA) +4'08"

Starters: 189
Finishers: 96
Average Speed: 40.160 km/h

TdF 1997

TdF 1999

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