Ulcerated by the media’s treatment of the doping scandals that shook the 1998 Tour de France, including the Festina affair, Laurent Jalabert was at the origin of the strike launched by the riders on July 24, 1998, at the start of the 12th stage. Just 25 years ago.
The Festina affair, which broke out a few days before the start of the 1998 Tour de France when Willy Voet, trainer in Richard Virenque’s training, was checked by customs with more than 400 vials of doping products in the trunk of his car, caused a real earthquake. And quickly, it was mainly a question of doping during this Grande Boucle.
During the first day of rest, customs investigators landed in the early morning at the TVM training hotel, seizing several doping products and placing in custody, Cees Priem, the sports director, and Doctor Mikhailov, the doctor, as well as a mechanic. And in the evening, the 20 hours of France 2 broadcast an edifying report in which it appeared that the garbage cans left at their hotel by the runners of the Asics training were also full of doping products.
This is too much for the riders of the Tour, who did not hesitate, on the morning of the 12e step, to make their displeasure known by launching a wildcat strike. The most upset of them was undoubtedly Laurent Jalabert who became a spokesperson with the media and Jean-Marie Leblanc, the boss of the Tour. “We are treated like cattle. That’s enough. There was the Festina affair and now the runners are dragged through the mud. If no one is interested in doing the Tour, we go home and you continue without us”he launched in front of the microphones.
France 2 singled out
But the unity between the riders is quickly faltering. Many runners, in the forefront of which those of the Telekom of the yellow jersey Jan Ullrich, indeed wanted to leave. They finally obtained satisfaction after two hours of talks. Laurent Jalabert made them pay by embarking on a long-distance breakaway with his brother Nicolas, forcing the peloton to work hard.
The riders are nevertheless unanimous in deploring the lack of respect of the media and the leaders towards them. And Jean-Marie Leblanc rushed into the breach to charge France 2, yet broadcaster of the Grande Boucle. “The runners were overwhelmed by a report broadcast in the France 2 newspaper and it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was a report that they called trash, which was biased, dishonest in their eyes and that is why, shocked, they wanted to come forward, explained the boss of the Tour. I shared the irritation of the riders at the sight of this report but if we had to cancel this stage, the 1998 Tour would not recover from it and the next Tours would also have a hard time recovering from it. »