Cycling: Polti sign up Virenque

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The Independent Online
RICHARD VIRENQUE yesterday revived his career by joining the Italian Polti team six weeks after announcing his retirement from cycling.

Virenque, France's most popular rider until last year's Tour de France doping scandal, has signed a two-year contract, Polti announced at a Paris news conference.

"It's a new departure," said a relaxed Virenque, four times Tour de France king of the mountains, following months of uncertainty and isolation.

Virenque lost credibility with the cycling fraternity as he maintained a stance of not having knowingly taken banned substances when most of his then Festina team-mates admitted using performance-enhancing drugs. He reached a point early in December, having been dropped by Festina and with no offers in view, of saying he was retiring from his sport.

Festina were kicked out of the Tour de France in the scandal sparked when customs officials discovered a team car loaded with banned substances days before start in Dublin on 11 July. The team's sporting director, Bruno Roussell, confessed to systematic doping at Festina, but Virenque continued to deny involvement.

"I no longer need a lawyer. The past is the past. I committed mistakes in communication, I recognise that, but I'm determined to re-launch myself," Virenque said yesterday.

The Frenchman had been second in the 1997 Tour de France and his hopes of a victory last year were undermined by the doping revelations that marred the race.