Virenque faces uncertain future

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The Independent Online

The Festina drugs trial could end Richard Virenque's career, according to one of his lawyers. The trial closed yesterday after more than two weeks of evidence, but Vincent Speder, representing the French cyclist, said there was no certainty that he would be able to resume his career after admitting to the court that he has used illegal performance-enhancing drugs.

The Festina drugs trial could end Richard Virenque's career, according to one of his lawyers. The trial closed yesterday after more than two weeks of evidence, but Vincent Speder, representing the French cyclist, said there was no certainty that he would be able to resume his career after admitting to the court that he has used illegal performance-enhancing drugs.

"This is a long road and it is likely Richard will be punished," Speder said in a closing argument which asked for leniency for his client. "We still have to see if he will rejoin a team. He is in a position where he has no guarantees as to his future."

The judge at the trial was told by assistant prosecutor Gerald Vinsonneau on Monday that no action should be taken against Virenque, who has denied being involved in a conspiracy to supply drugs. The taking of performance-enhancing drugs is not considered to be an offence under French law.

However, the climbing specialist is still facing action from sporting organisations and faces a ban of six months to a year from the Swiss Cycling Federation, through whom he is licensed.

Virenque, a five-times King of the Mountains in the Tour de France, had denied taking any illegal drugs for two years before finally admitting to the Lille hearing on 27 October that he had.

"That period of his life was very tough for Virenque," said his lawyer.

Eight other people have been charged and face suspended jail sentences and fines. The scandal started when 40 bottles of doping substances were found in the car driven by team masseur Willy Voet before the start of the 1998 Tour de France.

The former Festina team chief, Bruno Roussel, who first confessed to organising doping within the team, could face an 18-month suspended jail sentence and a 50,000 franc (£4,800) fine, while the prosecutor has asked for a 14-month suspended sentence and a 20,000 franc fine for Voet.

No verdicts are expected to be announced before the end of the year.

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