Drugs 'filled' team fridge

The wife of the former physiotherapist for the Festina team, which was removed from the 1998 Tour de France for apparent widespread drug use, told a court in Lille, France, yesterday that her refrigerator was stocked with drugs for the team's riders.

The wife of the former physiotherapist for the Festina team, which was removed from the 1998 Tour de France for apparent widespread drug use, told a court in Lille, France, yesterday that her refrigerator was stocked with drugs for the team's riders.

Ten people, including the celebrated Festina cyclist Richard Virenque, are on trial on a variety of doping-related charges that grew out of the drug scandal that nearly wrecked the 1998 Tour de France but heightened awareness of doping in the sports world. "Doping invaded us in 1995-96," Sylvie Voët testified. "It spoiled our life."

The performancing-enhancing drug known as EPO and growth hormones "ended up taking more space than food in our refrigerator," she said. Her husband, Willy Voët, was caught with a stash of EPO in a Festina team car just before the start of the Tour that was marked by police raids on riders' rooms.

Voët and eight other defendants, including the former Festina team trainer Bruno Roussel, are charged with "infraction of drug laws and doping legislation and importing medication as contraband." They risk up to 10 years in prison if convicted. Virenque, the only cyclist on trial, is charged with "complicity in facilitating and inciting the use of doping" but not with taking drugs even though he has admitted to taking them. He risks up to two years in prison.

Sylvie Voët's remarks corresponded with the picture of systematic doping among Festina and other teams being painted here in broad strokes in a week of testimony.

Yesterday's court session was cut short because bad weather that prevented a key witness, the head of the International Cycling Union, Hein Verbruggen, from leaving Manchester. He was rescheduled to appear today, along with other officials of the cycling world, including Daniel Baal, the president of the French Cycling Federation, and Jean-Marie Leblanc, the director of the Tour de France.

The organisations are civil parties in the case, a role often taken in judicial proceedings in France by those who consider themselves to be among the victims in a case.

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