Cycling: France stunned by drug arrests

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The Independent Online
FRENCH CYCLING - and football - were rocked by another doping scandal yesterday.

Fifteen people, including the top Belgian cyclist Frank Vandenbroucke and the Lyons defender Jean-Christophe Devaux, were arrested by drugs squad officers in a series of raids in Paris, Lyons and Normandy on Thursday night and yesterday morning.

The arrests were said to be connected to a large delivery of the red blood cell boosting agent erythropoietin (EPO), and associated "masking" drugs, to an address in Paris on Thursday evening. Others arrested, and now in custody at Paris police headquarters, include Lionel Virenque, the older brother of the top French cyclist, Richard Virenque, already under investigation for his alleged part in the doping scandal in the Festina team that disrupted the Tour de France last year.

Police sources told the newspaper Le Monde that the raids were the culmination of a widespread and lengthy investigation into the use of illegal substances in French sport. The arrest of the Lyons defender implies the existence of a drug-supply network covering various sports.

Another name on the list of those arrested caused a stir in the French sporting establishment. Police were questioning the renowned lawyer, Bertrand Lavelot, who has specialised in defending cyclists and other sporting figures who fall foul of the drugs laws or regulations.

The arrest of Vandenbroucke will cause anguish in Belgium, where he is the latest in a long series of riders to be lionised as the "new Eddie Merckx". He is the leader of the French Cofidis team and as such recently won the Liege-Bastogne-Liege race. Another Cofidis rider, Philippe Gaumont of France, was also arrested.