Originally created 07/12/98

Boardman wins Tour de France prologue



DUBLIN, Ireland -- Chris Boardman of Britain won Saturday's prologue of the Tour de France, as the Irish start to the world's premier cycling race was marred by a drug scandal involving France's top-rated Festina team.

Boardman raced to victory on the 3´-mile route through central Dublin in 6 minutes, 12.36 seconds, more than four seconds better than runner-up Abraham Olano of Spain.

France's Laurent Jalabert, the world time trial champion, was third, five seconds behind Boardman. Defending Tour champion Jan Ullrich of Germany finished sixth, also five seconds behind.

It was Boardman's third victory in five years in the Tour's prologue.

"I didn't expect to win," he said. "I didn't feel very good this morning, but it came right on the day. ... The crowd helped. The noise was incredible."

The gentle rain so common to the Emerald Isle affected the first half of the race, deterring some riders from aggressively taking the two sharpest corners early on in the speed circuit.

But the course had dried when Boardman -- who also won the prologues of 1994 and 1997 -- rolled down the starting ramp. He never hesitated from the start and sped down the city's broad O'Connell Street to the finish line beyond the city's landmark General Post Office.

Festina put in the strongest team performance, with three riders in the top 10, but its performance was clouded by the arrest of one of its support staff in France.

Willy Voet, a Belgian masseur, was arrested Thursday on the French-Belgian border in possession of more than 400 vials of steroids and the performance-enhancing drug EPO, which is considered the cycling world's favored drug. It boosts the level of red-blood cells, enabling cyclists to absorb oxygen more effectively.

One of Festina's unexpectedly strong performances came from unheralded Christophe Moreau, who led for much of the race and finished fifth in 6:17.32. He was competing while petitioning his positive test for steroid use at a race in June.

Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc resisted calls for Festina to be restricted from competing until the facts of the case could be established.

"This man may have been acting on his own without the knowledge of the team, so there is no question of penalizing them," Leblanc said.

Festina's director, Bruno Roussel, said he knew nothing about the problem but would find out when the Tour goes to France Monday night.

More than 30,000 spectators lined the route to see the first Tour de France in Ireland.