One-franc damages sought for Festina scandal

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The Independent Online

Officials, sponsors and race organisers demanded symbolic damages from a French court yesterday, arguing that their reputations had been unfairly tarnished by the Tour de France doping scandal. Though not all directly involved in the case, the various groups exercised their rights as "civil parties" under French law to give evidence in court over actions which they believe have affected their activities.

Officials, sponsors and race organisers demanded symbolic damages from a French court yesterday, arguing that their reputations had been unfairly tarnished by the Tour de France doping scandal. Though not all directly involved in the case, the various groups exercised their rights as "civil parties" under French law to give evidence in court over actions which they believe have affected their activities.

Their lawyers told the court here that their clients deserved sympathy, and demanded a symbolic franc in damages over the drug furore surrounding the Festina team, which broke on the 1998 Tour de France.

Watch-makers Festina, Spanish company ONCE, the Tour de France company, the French Cycling Federation (FFC), the International Cycling Union (UCI) and two riders, Laurent Brochard and Pascal Hervé, were all represented.

Ambroise Arnaud, for Festina, pointed out the company had been involved in the fight against doping since 1998, saying its name had been associated with drug-taking but it had decided to fight the slur rather than quit the sport. He said Festina has created a foundation to support scientific research into drug taking and was helping riders fight drug addictions.

Pierre-Yves Couturier, for team sponsors ONCE, told the court that no ONCE rider had ever tested positive for drugs and that the accused in the case had not expressed their regrets for using drugs.

The UCI and FFC also argued that they had taken action against doping, although the UCI lawyer, Philippe Verbiest, conceded that perhaps more could have been done. Fabienne Fajgenbaum, for the Tour de France company, said the trial had been a victory for justice over a code of silence, and pointed out the race's role against doping.

Brochard and Hervé, who gave evidence that they had used drugs, demanded damages through their counsel, Gilbert Collard, who argued that nothing had been done to alert riders to the dangers of doping. The federal prosecutor is due to address the court on Monday, the third week of the trial, to ask for penalties to be imposed on the accused.

The 10 accused in the trial, including the leading French rider Richard Virenque, face up to two years in prison and fines of up 100,000 francs (£10,000) if found guilty of conspiracy to provide drugs to three teams in the 1998 Tour de France.

The trial, which started on 23 October, has seen several leading riders admit to using illegal performance enhancers. The case became the biggest doping scandal in cycling history after the entire Festina team were thrown out of the 1998 Tour following the discovery of 40 bottles of doping products, including EPO, in a team car. The car's driver, Willy Voet, and Festina manager Bruno Roussel are among the defendants, along with Virenque, who has now admitted taking drugs.

* The ICU said yesterday that urine samples taken from riders during the Tour de France would be destroyed by 15 November unless a reliable test for the banned hormone EPO was approved by then by the International Olympic Committee.

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