Britain’s Millar hit by French doping scandal
PARIS, April 9 (AFP) - The Olympic aspirations of Britain's top cyclist David Millar could be under threat after he was directly implicated Friday in the doping scandal which has engulfed France's top team Cofidis.
A potentially damaging report in L’Equipe newspaper claims that Millar, the world time trial champion who will bid for Olympic track gold in the Athens velodrome this summer, has been actively involved in doping and works closely with a shady doctor from the Spanish Euskaltel team.
The Cofidis doping affair was exposed in January when police, who had for months tapped the phones of several team members, found that banned substances were circulating among several current and ex-team members.
The subsequent investigation has led to seven riders, including the main accuser Philippe Gaumont, and the team physio being charged with illegally possessing toxic drugs.
Millar has always denied any involvement and flatly rejected the idea that systematic or organised doping had taken place.
But Friday’s claims by L’Equipe – which also target complicit team managers and a shady Italian doctor in Rome whom Cofidis riders have consulted – will have already taken the shine off the 27-year-old Scot’s hopes for a gilt-edged summer.
L’Equipe’s claims are based on the testimony of Gaumont to the investigating magistrate in charge of the affair.
According to L’Equipe Gaumont told the inquiry that Millar exerted his influence as team leader when he asked team doctor Jean-Jacques Menuet to inject Gaumont and Cedric Vasseur with the same substance he had been given before winning the time-trial at Nantes in the 2003 Tour de France.
Gaumont did not specify what the substance was other than being a “clear liquid.”
“If Menuet agreed to give Vasseur and myself the injections it was because Millar asked him to, and as team leader he had a lot of power over the riders and Menuet,” Gaumont was quoted as saying.
Menuet told l’Equipe he could make no comment while the investigation was underway.
Gaumont, who won a bronze medal at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, has been described as a loose cannon by Millar and it is believed he has an axe to grind since being sacked by the team.
Millar told Thursday’s edition of the Guardian: “It’s clear to me. There are three or four people in the team who have been complete idiots, but if you go into any work-place environment you will find three or four people who do stupid things, take risks.
“It’s scary how a few idiots can put everyone’s jobs in danger.”
He added: “He’s (Gaumont) a nutter, but what’s dangerous is that he’s very gifted at manipulating people; at the moment he seems to be manipulating the judge, the police and the press.
“He’s behaving like a absolute lunatic. It’s guerilla warfare against the team.”
Cofidis team manager Alain Bondue and deputy Alain Deloeil, also implicated by Gaumont, told L’Equipe they denied the accusations.
Gaumont has told several newspapers he took drugs throughout his 10-year professional career, but tested positive only once.
He says blood transfusions to maintain the oxygen-rich red-cell count have taken over from red-cell booster erythropoietin (EPO) because a test introduced in 2000 means EPO can be detected within three days of its injection.
EPO, he says, is used only when a cyclist knows he will not be tested. Millar, who lives in Biarritz and this weekend is competing at the track WOrld Cup in Manchester, could also be investigated for alleged fiscal fruad.
According to L’Equipe the Cofidis team have set up a method of paying their top riders the profits from image rights through a company based in Luxemburg, which allows the team to avoid paying tax.
Cofidis has reacted to the accusations by threatening legal action against L’Equipe and demanding that all of Friday’s newspapers be removed from stands.
Subject: French news