Prosecutor pleads for Virenque to escape sentence

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The Independent Online

Richard Virenque should not be sentenced, according to the prosecutor in the Festina doping scandal.

Richard Virenque should not be sentenced, according to the prosecutor in the Festina doping scandal.

Gerald Vinsonneau told the court yesterday there was insufficient evidence that the French rider, five-time King of the Mountains in the Tour de France, had played an active part in organising doping in the Festina team.

Virenque has admitted taking doping substances such as the banned hormone erythropoietin (EPO) while with Festina, but taking drugs is not an offence under French law. The eight other persons charged in the case are facing suspended jail sentences and fines.

Lawyers said the defendants took advantage of the fact that doping was so widespread in cycling that they could not be singled out as criminals.

Judge Daniel Delegove said last week: "I'm looking to define what the context is to be able to evaluate the degree of responsibility of each defendant. If they were alone in doing it, it would be more serious. On the other hand, if doping was systematic, it would tone down their responsibilities."

The prosecutor is seeking a suspended 14-month jail sentence as well as a 20,000 francs (£2,070) fine against the former Festina team masseur Willy Voet. The scandal started when about 40 bottles of doping substances were found in the boot of the car driven by Voet before the 1998 Tour de France.

The former Festina team chief, Bruno Roussel, who first confessed organising doping within the team, faces an 18-month suspended jail sentence and a 50,000 francs fine.

"Roussel was caught, the Festina team were caught but the trial showed it could have been any other team," said Roussel's lawyer, Thibaut de Montbrial.

The verdict is not expected to be made public before the end of the year.

The veteran French rider Jeannie Longo broke the world one-hour record with 44.767km on Sunday. She beat the 43.501km set by Australian Anna Wilson on a conventional bike in Melbourne last month.

Longo, who also holds the one-hour record of 48.159km for a hi-tech machine which she set on the same Mexico City track in 1996, plans to stay in the country for another week to try to improve the mark. "I'm going to keep on training. I feel fantastic and very confident."