Festina, who include the reigning world champion, Laurent Brochard, and Richard Virenque, a four-times winner of the Tour de France King of the Mountains title, were thrown out of the Tour de France after their team director admitted to authorising drug-taking within the world No 1 team.
Both the French Cycling Federation (FFC) and the Swiss federation, who have three riders in Festina, are still investigating the alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs by the team, and judicial inquiries are still under way.
But the whole affair was blown wide open once again when the French newspaper France-Soir published extracts of verbal submissions by Festina riders to police in Lyon in July. Lille's first deputy prosecutor, Gerald Vinsonneau, said the extracts were genuine.
Seven of the riders interviewed admitted to organised doping within the team and taking the banned substance EPO. But Virenque and Pascal Herve still deny any doping offences, Vinsonneau stressed. EPO is employed in medicine to treat kidney disease but it can also be used to increase oxygen- carrying red blood cell levels, helping to improve endurance.
The results of the various tests of blood, hair and urine samples will not be available until early next month, according to Vinsonneau, who added that the examining magistrate, Partick Keil, might again interview the riders in the weeks ahead.
Vinsonneau said the goal of the inquiry into the affair was to determine the source of the doping products and how they were administered to the riders.
The France-Soir article enraged the Swiss rider, Alex Zulle, who recently lost a sponsorship deal in the wake of the drugs scandal and diverted attention from the performance of early Tour of Spain race leader Laurent Jalabert of Once. Jalabert and Once were also drawn into the affair by implication when Zulle revealed that EPO was also taken while he was riding with the Spanish team before he switched to Festina.
The French government yesterday created its own team to tackle the problem of drugs in sports.
The working group includes leading figures from sports medicine, law and sociology, including the presidents of the National Commission of the Order of Doctors, the French Society of Sports Doctors and the National Order of Pharmacists.
The group is to make a preliminary report in mid-October, one month before the National Assembly's second reading of a new anti-doping law, and present its final recommendations by April 1999, officials said.
The Italian rider Fabrizio Guidi won the 173.5km fourth stage of the Tour of Spain, from Malaga to Granada, yesterday. Guidi also took over the race lead from Jalabert.Reuse content