Popular French cycling star Virenque retires

24th September 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Sept 24 (AFP) - French rider Richard Virenque, a record seven times King of the Mountains in the Tour de France, will retire at the end of the season when he turns 35.

PARIS, Sept 24 (AFP) - French rider Richard Virenque, a record seven times King of the Mountains in the Tour de France, will retire at the end of the season when he turns 35.  

Virenque, who turned professional in 1991, will bow out of the sport as one of France's most popular riders although he never matched the success of five-time Tour winner Bernard Hinault or double Tour winner Laurent Fignon.  

Once the bad boy of the sport for his role in the Festina doping scandal which rocked the Tour in 1998 and led to a later suspension, the Frenchman resurrected his career years ago.  

"I have been riding for 20 years and I didn't want to do it for a year too many," he said Friday.  

Virenque followed a third place in the 1996 Tour de France with second in 1997, but a year later his Festina squad was ejected from the race after customs officers found a stash of banned drugs in a team car.   

At a trial, Virenque was cleared of charges that he helped supply drugs to his teammates.   

However, he caused a furore with his testimony which claimed there was systematic drug use in cycling.   

His admission of doping led to a ban that kept him out of the 2001 Tour, and he admitted he thought his career was over.   

"I symbolise doping," Virenque told Le Monde newspaper.  

But he was given a hero's welcome on his return to the road.   He won the gruelling stage up the Mont Ventoux on his Tour comeback in 2002, and followed that with a win to Morzine in the Alps in 2003.   

Virenque was admired for his climbing ability and solo breakaways and this year he took Bastille Day glory by winning the Tour's longest stage on July 14 with another gutsy ride.  

Virenque went on to take his seventh polka-dot jersey, overtaking Spanish rider Federico Bahamontes and Belgian Lucien Van Impe, who both won six.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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