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Top riders named in Tour de France doping report

Italian Marco Pantani and Germany's Jan Ullrich both used the banned blood-booster erythropoetin (EPO) during the 1998 Tour de France, a French parliamentary commission report said on Wednesday.

Top riders named in Tour de France doping report
German Cyclist Jan Ullrich (L) riding on May 19th, 2000 during the 4th stage of the 52th Midi Libre and Italian Marco Pantani riding on June 3rd, 2000. File photo: Patrick Kovarik/AFP

Pantani, who died in 2004, won the controversial race, with Ullrich taking second place.

The commission, though, found no hard evidence that American Bobby Julich, who was third, also used EPO, as Le Monde newspaper had reported Tuesday.

The findings were based on comparisons made of retrospective testing results from 2004 and a list of samples from the 1998 Tour de France and the 1999 race won by disgraced US rider Lance Armstrong.

Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour wins and banned from cycling for life last year for doping in a scandal that plunged cycling into crisis about the extent of substance abuse among the peloton.

The commission compared the results from the anonymous samples from 2004 to named samples taken from the two Tours under scrutiny.

Aside from Pantani and Ullrich, a trio of French riders were also found to have used EPO in the 1998 Tour – Laurent Jalabert, Jacky Durand and Laurent Desbiens, the commission's report revealed.

In May, Jalabert was identified as an alleged doper and he immediately stepped down as a television and radio pundit for this year's Tour that was won last Sunday by British rider Chris Froome.

Since then, there has been debate in France about the utility of naming names, with the family of Pantani saying they were against identifying riders.

The professional cyclists' union the CPA last Friday said that it, too, was opposed to publication.

"Publication of a list amounts… to an accusation of doping without any means of defence," the union said, arguing that no counter-analysis was possible as the original samples no longer existed.

Pantani, who won both the Tour of Italy and Tour de France in 1998, never tested positive throughout his career, although he was expelled from the 1999 Giro due to irregular blood levels.

Ullrich for his part held his hands up to doping in June.

The commission questioned 84 witnesses under oath, from sportsmen and women to organizers and anti-doping experts, to "lift the lid" on and "break the code of silence" over the subject.

Cycling, with its doping-scarred past, has not been the only focus, however, with attention also paid in particular to rugby.

The French anti-doping agency assessed that the sport was the most affected by doping in relation to its testing, while football and tennis were also examined.

France football coach Didier Deschamps was questioned behind closed doors while tennis came under the scanner for its relative lack of testing at an international level.

The senators are aiming to frame legislation on sport and put it before parliament for debate next year.

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SPORT

French rugby in turmoil as FFR boss gets suspended sentence over corruption

Lawyers for FFR President Bernard Laporte said he was going to appeal against the court's verdict

French rugby in turmoil as FFR boss gets suspended sentence over corruption

French rugby was reeling Tuesday after the president of the country’s governing body Bernard Laporte was handed a two-year suspended prison sentence on corruption charges nine months before France hosts the game’s World Cup.

Fédération Française de Rugby (FFR) president Laporte, 58, was convicted after a French court ruled he showed favouritism in awarding a shirt sponsorship contract for the national side to Mohed Altrad, the billionaire owner of Top 14 champions Montpellier. He was also banned from holding any rugby post for two years. Both are suspended pending an appeal, which Laporte’s lawyer said was imminent.

Laporte later stepped down from his role as vice-chairman of the sport’s global governing body, World Rugby, pending a review by the body’s ethics officer.

“World Rugby notes the decision by World Rugby vice-chairman Bernard Laporte to self-suspend from all positions held within its governance structures with immediate effect following his conviction by the French court in relation to domestic matters, and pending his appeal,” World Rugby said.

“While acknowledging Laporte’s self-suspension and right of appeal, given the serious nature of the verdict World Rugby’s Executive Committee has referred the matter to its independent ethics officer for review in accordance with its integrity code,” it added.

Resignation call
Laporte faces problems on the domestic front, too, with Florian Grill, who narrowly lost to him in the 2020 election for federation chief, calling for Laporte and the entire board to stand down.

“It is unheard of in rugby, this is an earthquake,” Grill told AFP. “We have never before seen a president of the federation condemned to two
years in prison, even if it suspended.

“We think the 40 members of the board of directors should draw the obvious conclusions and resign.”

French Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera said the sentence was an “obstacle for Bernard Laporte to be able, as it stands, to continue his mission in good conditions” as federation president, and called for a “new democratic era to allow French rugby to rebound as quickly as possible and sufficiently healthy and solid, with a governance by the federation that will have the full confidence of the clubs”.

The court found that Laporte ensured a series of marketing decisions favourable to Altrad – who was given an 18-month suspended sentence and
€50,000 euro — in exchange for a €180,000 image licensing contract that was never actually carried out.

Altrad’s lawyer said he would study the decision before deciding on whether to appeal.

At the trial’s close in September, prosecutors said they were seeking a three-year prison sentence for Laporte, of which he should serve one behind bars, and the two others on probation.

The friendship and business links between Laporte and Altrad are at the heart of the case.

It goes back to February 2017, when they signed a deal under which Laporte agreed to appear at Altrad group conferences, and sold his image reproduction rights, in return for €180,000.

But while that sum was  paid to Laporte, prosecutors claim that he neveractually provided the services he signed up for.

Laporte did, however, make several public statements backing Altrad and, in March 2017, signed the €1.8 million deal with the businessman making his namesake firm the first-ever sponsor to appear on the French national team’s jerseys.

The Altrad name and logo still features on the shirts thanks to a follow-up deal negotiated by Laporte in 2018 and which prosecutors say bears all the hallmarks of corruption. It is also on the All Blacks’ national squads’ shirts, and New Zealand Rugby is reportedly seeking an urgent meeting with company officials following the court ruling.

Laporte, formerly a highly successful coach who guided France twice to the World Cup semi-finals (2003 and 2007), was also found guilty of favouritism
with regards to Altrad’s Montpellier Herault Rugby (MHR) club.

He was convicted for intervening with French rugby’s federal disciplinary commission to reduce a fine against the club from €70,000 to €20,000 after several telephone calls from Laporte.

While prosecutors saw this and several more incidents as proof of illicit favouritism, Laporte himself had claimed there was no “cause-effect relationship”.

On the last day of the trial in October, Laporte’s lawyer Fanny Colin accused the prosecution of “confirmation bias” by “taking into account only elements backing their original assumptions”.

The verdict comes only nine months before the Rugby World Cup kicks off in France on September 8, 2023, with matches played in nine stadiums across the country.

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