Originally created 07/31/98

Drug scandal widens, two more teams withdraw



NEUCHATEL, Switzerland -- After one of the most turbulent days in its history, the Tour de France lost two more teams Thursday in its growing drug scandal.

Amid the bucolic surroundings of Switzerland, the athletes couldn't escape the news that the teams withdrew to protest police behavior. Also, investigators for the first time prevented a cyclist from competing after finding drugs in his possession.

When the 18th stage was over, Tom Steels of Belgium had won, but the overall standings remained the same. Italy's Marco Pantani retained the yellow jersey, Bobby Julich of the United States was second, and last year's winner, Jan Ullrich of Germany, was third.

Before Thursday's start, there was uncertainty as to whether the race would go on. Many riders, angered at the growing investigation, had threatened to pull out entirely. But in the end, 103 of them left the French Alpine town of Aix-les-Bains for a 135´-mile ride through stunning countryside to Neuchatel.

Shortly before midnight Wednesday, police in Chambery, France, near Aix-les-Bains, detained rider Rodolfo Massi of the Casino team. They found banned drugs in his room, said prosecutors in Lille, where the probe is centered.

They also found drugs in a truck belonging to the Spanish ONCE team -- one of five that had dropped out of the race in protest, the prosecutors said. Its doctor, Nicolas Terrados, was detained.

And after a night in detention, Marc Madiot, director of the French team Francaise des Jeux, was released.

Earlier, two Spanish teams, Kelme and Vitalcio, angrily quit the field, joining the other three Spanish teams, who quit Wednesday. A sixth team, Festina, was thrown out on July 17 after police found materials in a team masseur's car -- sparking the current scandal.

Of the 21 teams that started this year's Tour, only 15 remain.

The remaining riders were trying to put the scandal behind them, and think ahead to Sunday's finale on the Champs-Elysees.

"I'm just trying to get to Paris in one piece," Frankie Andreu of the U.S. Postal Service team said. "It's been hard, mentally."

Wednesday's 17th stage was one of the most chaotic in the Tour's history.

After stopping twice, the pack coasted slowly to the finish line, and the stage results were canceled. Riders threatened to give up entirely, but by Thursday, they seemed to realize the enormity of stopping the race in protest for the first time since its debut in 1903.

"We were all afraid to give up after 20 days of racing," said Marco Pantani, the overall race leader. "I've made sacrifices to get the yellow jersey."

Fans lining the route through eastern France made their sentiments clear.

"Free Festina!" one banner said.

Once the race crossed into Switzerland, with its pristine lakes, mountains, chalets and kids ringing cowbells, the banners were just as blunt. "It's hypocrisy!" one said.

Swiss organizing official Jean Cavadini promised the riders a peaceful, raid-free night in Neuchatel. But he added: "I fear the celebration has been spoiled, ever since the first week."

Swiss fans, though, were determined not to let that happen. Jeannette Etamba, 28, brought her 4-month-old son to drink in the scene at the finish line.

"Doping is deceitful, but the scandal hasn't destroyed the atmosphere for us," she said minutes before the exhausted riders crossed the finish line. "We're going to cheer the riders."

In the race, Steels edged Erik Zabel of Germany in a sprint finish for his third stage victory of the Tour. Stuart O'Grady of Australia was third.