Virenque at the 2003 Tour de France
|Full name||Richard Virenque|
19 November 1969 |
|Height||1.79 m (5 ft 10 in)|
|Weight||65 kg (143 lb)|
|Infobox last updated on
28 March 2008
||This article contains too many or too-lengthy quotations for an encyclopedic entry. (August 2012)|
Richard Virenque[n 1] (born 19 November 1969) is a retired French professional road racing cyclist. He was one of the most popular French riders with fans for his boyish personality and his long, lone attacks.[n 2] He was a climber, winning the King of the Mountains competition of the Tour de France a record seven times. He is best remembered as the central figure in a widespread doping scandal in 1998, and his being regularly displayed as a moronic rubber puppet with hypodermics in his head on the satirical television programme, Les Guignols de l'info.
Virenque finished twice on the podium in the Tour de France (third in 1996 and second in 1997) and won several stages, among them Mont Ventoux in 2002. He is the 18th rider in the Tour to have won stages over 10 years apart.[n 3]
- 1 Childhood
- 2 Early career
- 3 Professional career
- 4 Festina affair
- 5 Post-trial reaction
- 6 Post-suspension career
- 7 Retirement
- 8 Personal life
- 9 Palmarès
- 10 Tour de France
- 11 Giro d'Italia
- 12 Books
- 13 See also
- 14 Notes
- 15 References
- 16 External links
Virenque, his parents, his brother Lionel and sister Nathalie lived in the Iseba district of Casablanca. The family was affluent, employing both a gardener and a nurse. His mother described Richard as a gentle, kind boy, full of life, who enjoyed helping her in the garden. His idol was Michael Jackson. His father, Jacques, ran a tire company. As a child, Virenque began cycling by riding round the garden of the family's house. "It wasn't much of a bike," he said. "It had no mudguards, no brakes, and I had to scrape my foot along the ground to stop." Virenque often skipped school to fish on the beach. He told a court during the Festina doping inquiry (see below):
|“||"I soon realised that I didn't have the brain to be anything but a racing cyclist."||”|
The family moved to La Londe-les-Maures, near the Côte d'Azur, in 1979 when he was nine. There his father failed to find the same sort of job and relations between his parents suffered. Jacques and Bérangère Virenque[n 4] divorced soon afterwards and Virenque said he was devastated.
|“||"That [my parents divorce] was a difficult moment. I had only my bike, and I took to it in depth."||”|
He couldn't stand being in school any longer than he had to, he said, and he left to work as a plumber.
|“||"I studied for my qualifications but they were only an excuse [to leave school]. I used to go cycling rather than attend my classes."||”|
Cycle-racing did not immediately inspire Virenque. His brother, Lionel, cycled, read specialist magazines and watched the Tour de France on television.
|“||"But [racing and the Tour de France] didn't interest me at all, until the day he [my brother] took me to see a race and I signed up with a cycling school [école de cyclisme]."[n 5]||”|
He rode for the Vélo Club Hyèrois from the age of 13 where, encouraged by his grandfather, he took out his first licence with the Fédération Française de Cyclisme He said he knew he could climb well from the start.
|“||"My shorts used to flap round me in those days and my bike was too big for me. On the flat, I clung to the wheels in front as best I could, but the moment there was a hill, I left the others. I've always had that pleasure."||”|
His first win was in a race round the town at La Valette-du-Var, when he and another rider, Pascale Ranucci, lapped the field. He then did his national service in the army battalion at Joinville in Paris to which talented sportsmen were often sent.[n 6] He spent his last period as an amateur with the ASPTT[n 7] in Paris.
In 1990 he came eighth in the world championship road race at Utsunomiya, Tochigi in Japan, riding une course d'enfer[n 8] to impress Marc Braillon, the head of the professional team, RMO, said Pascal Lino. "I was riding like a kamikaze. I rode out of my skin," Virenque said. It worked: Braillon offered him a contract.
When I saw him arrive in the team, I soon understood. He was scared of nothing and he mouthed off at the slightest thing. From his first races, it was a festival, particularly at the Tour Med... We were riding at 60kmh and he attacked and held the peloton in respect for two kilometres. On the other hand, he was less impressive in the team time-trials."
Virenque rode his first Tour de France in 1992 as a replacement for another team member, Jean-Philippe Dojwa. He was earning 15,000 francs a month. He said he dreamed only of "being able to follow the best in the mountains, riders like Claudio Chiappucci, Indurain, LeMond, Thierry Claveyrolat." On the third day he took the maillot jaune of leadership after a long breakaway with two other riders on the col de Marie-Blanque in the Pyrenees. He held it for a day, losing it next day to his team-mate Pascal Lino, who led for the next two weeks. Virenque finished second in the climbers' competition.
He said of his talent in the mountains:
|“||"You have to be able to move sur la plaque [use the larger chainring] as soon as you're at the top. I generally shift gears 300m from the top. On a gentle climb, I sprint with my hands on the drops, or I accelerate with my hands on the hoods. I climb cols by feel and I don't look at my heart monitor. That said, I do have a look at my rivals' heart monitors sometimes, to see what state they're in. Often I look at my computer to see how many more kilometers there are to the summit. When you're not going well, you avoid looking upwards. In a climb, I look straight ahead 10 meters in front of me to judge my rivals, analyse the gears they're using, see if they're rolling in the saddle, if they're breathing easily or not. You have to sense all that. Some riders don't show signs of being tired but after riding with them so many times in the mountains I know the signs they're not doing well. But I'm not going to say what they are."||”|
Virenque was sought by several teams after his first Tour and Cyrille Guimard said at the world championship at Benidorm that he had arranged for him to join his Castorama team, where he would replace Laurent Fignon. But the announcement was premature and Virenque joined another French team, Festina. He stayed there until the team dissolved in the wake of a doping scandal in 1998 (see below).
|“||"That day on the Alpe d'Huez was... pff!... happiness. When I left the hotel in the morning, the people were there waiting for me and, on the road, they were encouraging me, putting their hand on me. Taps, gestures to encourage me. I could hear their voices, their shouts, which meant a lot to me. The sort of moment, that brings waves of euphoria. To climb the Alpe d'Huez or be in the Tour without those people, that would be... Without that, I wouldn't be a Tour rider. The Vuelta, the Giro, all that is fading. But the Tour, that's brilliant everywhere. I climbed the Alpe d'Huez for the pleasure. I never really suffered. It was a 13 July, it was my big day. Let me show my jersey! I wallowed in the crowd [J'ai vécu un bon bain de foule]. And what a crowd! They were shouting so hard that when I got back to silence, in the camper car, my ears were ringing. Like when you come out of a concert or a night club."||”|
In 1998 the Festina cycling team was disgraced by a doping scandal (see Doping at the Tour de France) after a soigneur, Willy Voet, was found when crossing from Belgium to France to have drugs used for doping. They were, said John Lichfield, the Paris correspondent of The Independent in Britain: "235 doses of erythropoietin (EPO), an artificial hormone which boosts the red cells (and therefore endurance) but can thicken the blood to fatal levels if not controlled properly. They also found 82 doses of a muscle-strengthening hormone called Sauratropine,; 60 doses of Pantestone, a derivative of testosterone, which boosts body strength but can cause cancer; and sundry pain-deadening corticoids and energy-fuelling amphetamines." Bruno Roussel, Virenque's directeur sportif, told L'Équipe that Virenque responded to the news by saying:
|“||"Mes produits, comment je vais faire maintenant?" - "My products/stuff — what am I going to do now?"||”|
While his former team-mates were served six-month suspensions and returned to racing in spring 1999, Virenque changed teams to Polti in January 1999 and prepared for the 1999 Tour by riding the Giro d'Italia, in which he won a stage. Another Italian, his team-mate Enrico Cassani, said Virenque was referred to in Italy as "the shit". He said: "When he arrived, we were originally against him. Then, very quickly, we saw he knew how to live and to joke and we respected him. He proved he had some character, some personality."
A few weeks later Virenque's name emerged in an inquiry into Bernard Sainz, the so-called Dr Mabuse of cycling who was later jailed for practising as an unqualified doctor. Franco Polti, the head of Virenque's team, fined him 30 million lire.
Race director Jean-Marie Leblanc banned Virenque from the 1999 Tour de France but was obliged to accept him after a ruling by the Union Cycliste Internationale. Lichfield wrote in The Independent:
"The sport of road-race cycling (and it may not be the only one) is like an alcoholic, refusing to accept that it has a problem, as long as it drinks in secrecy. That fact was shamefully proved once again this week when the sport's governing body — the International Cycling Union (UCI) - forced the 1999 Tour to accept Richard Virenque... The baby-faced Virenque faces possible criminal charges of drug-taking and drug-trafficking. Despite his denials, French judicial investigators say they have documentary evidence that he has been doping himself for years. The Tour said last month that he was 'not welcome.' The UCI insisted on Tuesday that he must ride. The Tour gave way. So much for ethical purity."
Virenque rode, at his team's request, on a bicycle painted white with red dots to resemble the polkadot jersey of best climber and he travelled between stages with a bodyguard, Gilles Pagliuca. That year, he wrote Ma Vérité, a book which asserted his innocence and included comments of how doping must be fought. He wrote that his team-mates confessed to using EPO because of pressure from the police. He said Moreau's urine showed EPO had not been detected. Procycling wrote:
"The 200 or so pages of Ma Vérité camouflage this dodgy logic [that Virenque never took drugs because he was never caught taking drugs] with sometimes justifiable grievances against the breaches of confidence that have fed the press since the scandal broke. But they also skirt the substantive issues with tedious consistency. Readers after la vérité won't find it in Ma Vérité and fans who have invested emotions in Virenque's sporting career deserve better. If he's innocent, how does Virenque counter the accusations against him coming from all quarters? The answer is: he doesn't even attempt to. Virenque pathetically observes the peloton's custom of keeping mum: he never mentions coming into contact with doping practices, directly or indirectly. He doesn't describe techniques or list substances. He doesn't name names... he carries on as if the problem didn't exist. After all that has happened in the past year, there can be only one reason to buy a book by Richard Virenque: to read a detailed denial of involvement in doping, or a full, contrite confession. Ma Vérité has neither: and integrity is virtually undetectable too."
The Festina affair led to a trial in Lille, northern France, in October 2000. Virenque was a witness with others from the former Festina team. He at first denied he had doped himself but then confessed. "Oui, je me suis dopé", he told the court's president, Daniel Delegove, on 24 October. But he denied doping himself intentionally. Voet said he was aware of what he was doing and participated in trafficking between cyclists. Virenque said this happened without his approval. That led the satirical television programme, Les Guignols de l'info - which displayed Virenque as a moronic rubber puppet with hypodermics in his head - to change his words to "à l'insu de mon plein gré" ("willingly but without knowing"), and the phrase passed into French popular culture as a sign of hypocritical denial.[n 10] Voet wrote a book, Massacre à la Chaîne, published in a legally-censored English edition as Breaking the Chain, in which he came close to identifying Virenque as an unrepentant doper.
Virenque was criticised by the media and satirists for his denial in the face of increasing evidence and his pretence of having been doped without his knowledge. Voet wrote in Le Journal du Dimanche that he preferred Virenque as a young pro "because he didn't dope himself much". Many former colleagues shunned him, remembering his arrogance and criticism, but his agent, Eric Boyer, later manager of the Cofidis team, said:
"He shouldn't have had to pay for the lack of awareness [inconscience] of previous generations, mine and those which preceded it. It was too easy. He became the symbol of doping in cycling but he did only what the others did. He suffered for all that had gone before [Il a reçu ce fléau en héritage]. He deserved to be sanctioned severely, and he was. There shouldn't be more than that. In my opinion the Festina affair was just the outcome of what had been going on for many years. Richard walked into it willingly. Nobody made him. He was looking to improve his performances. But he shouldn't have to pay for three or four generations of cycling that did nothing about it."
Virenque's mother, Bérangère, said:
"[Richard] weeps, he speaks. It's his strength and his weakness. I was afraid that he would do the worst thing [commit suicide], because he is hypersensitive. I saw him defeated. The way others look at him is important to him. When I heard people in the crowd shout 'doper', I hated it... I thought of all the sacrifices that he made when he was very young, like when he was a kid and he was dropped in a race and that he went off like a mad dog, on impulse. When in the middle of it all he came back to Carqueiranne [where he still lives], he was in his garage and I took him in my arms. He cried from morning to night. Why did it take him so long to confess it to us, to talk to us? I don't know. I told him: 'Be brave, son. Whatever you do, think of your children. It's they who will live on after you.'"
Virenque lived near Geneva in Switzerland and the Swiss cycling association suspended him for nine months. The president of the committee which imposed the ban, Bernard Welten, said he deserved a severe penalty because he was one of the biggest drug-takers in the team. The president of the French federation, Daniel Baal, said nine months was halfway between the minimum penalty of six months and the maximum of a year for a first-time offence. The sentence was reduced by an independent tribunal to six and a half. He was fined the equivalent of 2,600 euros and told to pay 1,300 euros in costs. He became depressed. "I had to realise that I wasn't anything any more," he said. His wife Stéphanie said he put on two sizes in clothes and 10 kg more than his racing weight.[n 11] He wept repeatedly. She said she would stay with him and support him only if they moved back in the south of France after four years in Switzerland.
In the meantime they had the help of a prominent neighbour, Laurent Jalabert. The two had not been friends and did not see each other much in Switzerland. Then, Jalabert opened links by getting his wife, Sylvie, to ask Stéphanie Virenque for the loan of a vacuum cleaner that she didn't actually need. Jalabert said that later, "Richard called me one day when my wife and I were getting ready to move house. He was desperate to help us even though we didn't really need any help. It was then that I realised his distress. He spent the whole day taking the furniture apart and putting it back together again. It's odd, but that day did him an awful lot of good." Jalabert and his wife Sylvie said that, as a souvenir, they had kept the doors of one of their closets upside down because that was the way Virenque had fitted them.
The two men began training together.[n 12] When Virenque retired Jalabert wrote in an open letter:
"We used to go out every day at 10am, because you're not much of a morning person. There was a time in our career, you know like me, Richard, when were a bit cold to each other. We were rivals, we were chasing the same objectives and the press set us up against each other.
When we trained together was when I found out who you were, someone who's good deep down. Close to people, with a good heart as well. You told me you missed the sun of the south, and your friends. It seemed to you that everybody had abandoned you. You had the air of suffering, of needing to confide in someone. That hurt me to see you like that, you with your fame, to have fallen so far. A sort of complicity began between us. Afterwards, in 2002, we had a good battle for the polkadot jersey. That embarrassed me, to fight against you, but it was the same for you."
Virenque and his family moved back to France as his wife asked. Jalabert followed shortly after his own career ended.
"Mocked now and entirely abandoned, Richard Virenque responds with the spirit of the adolescent he remains. In a temper tantrum, he said this week that he is through with professional bicycle racing. If the sport doesn't need him, he raged, he doesn't need it. (Offstage sounds of feet being stamped and doors being slammed.) Nobody loves him. 'He would love to continue and make dreams come true,' his older brother explained, 'but he is not being given that chance.' In other, less shimmering words, because of his involvement in the doping scandal, none of the 20 or so top teams is willing to hire the star climber and team leader at his salary of about $1.6 million a year. Alas for him, many of those teams are not willing to hire him at any salary. His years of cockiness, his frequent and public criticism of rivals, his many small snubs are not forgotten. Virenque has become — made himself — extremely damaged goods."
Cofidis was said to be interested but not in his first year back. Jean Delatour, with whom Virenque trained in the winter,[n 13] said it could be interested if it found more sponsorship. On 5 July 2001 he joined Domo-Farm Frites, with the help of the former Tour de France winner, Eddy Merckx who, as supplier of the team's bikes, put up the extra money that the main sponsors would not. He was paid the equivalent of £800 a month, the minimum wage, for the last three months of the year and the same salary for which he had first turned professional in 1992. Domo kept him the following season, after Farm Frites withdrew as co-sponsor, because it wanted to expand its carpet business in France. On 25 October 2002, on the eve of the Tour de France presentation at the Palais des Congres in Paris, he signed for another two years.
Virenque returned to prominence by winning Paris–Tours on 7 October 2001 in a day-long breakaway in which he dropped Jacky Durand and crossed the line seconds ahead of the peloton. Paris–Tours is a flat race that favours sprinters and not climbers. "It was a typical Virenque moment," Fotheringham wrote, "with a yell of anger as he crossed the line 'for all those who tried to destroy me'". The French magazine, Vélo, called the victory "extraordinary." L'Équipe 's one-word headline on the front page was "Unbelievable!" Virenque said: "Jacky asked me if we should sit up [give up the breakaway attempt]. There were still 50km to go. I was longing for someone else to come up to us. A long break wasn't the idea. But when I saw the gap was rising, I shouted' Faut y croire ' [We can do it/We have to believe] But he said he'd run dry."
While Virenque was bettered by Laurent Jalabert in the 2001 and 2002 Tour de France for the King of the Mountains competition, he won his sixth polka dot jersey in 2003 to tie with Federico Bahamontes and Lucien Van Impe. His day-long breakaway also saw him wear the yellow jersey. In 2004 he won the King of the Mountains for a record seventh time. Van Impe criticised Virenque for being opportunistic rather than the best climber; he said he had himself refrained from breaking Bahamontes' record himself out of reverence. Virenque said they were jealous: "They couldn't stand being equal best and they couldn't stand being beaten."
Virenque ran into trouble again in 2002 when he appeared on a television programme, Tout le Monde en Parle, in June. The presenter, Thierry Ardisson, asked him: "If you were sure of winning the Tour by being doped but knew you would not get caught, would you do it?" Virenque replied: "Win the Tour doped, but without getting caught? Yes." The programme was recorded to be broadcast as-live. Ardisson said that Virenque asked after the recording finished that his answer be cut out. Ardisson said: "It was very naive, very Virenque. But it's a shame that, once again, he didn't want to tell the truth."
Virenque rode the Olympic Games road race in Athens and decided to retire, a decision he announced at the Olympia theatre in Paris on 24 September 2004. His wife had suggested continuing one more season, he said. He stayed in the public eye, winning Je suis une célébrité, sortez-moi de là! (the French version of I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!) in Brazil in April 2006. In autumn 2005 he opened Virenque Design, a company to design and sell jewellery often featuring the number 7, representing his wins in the King of the Mountains. Since 2005 he has been a consultant commentator for Eurosport, alongside Jacky Durand and Jean-François Bernard and the journalist, Patrick Chassé, where he is described as a "modest competitor" to Laurent Jalabert, the specialist on the rival state network. He has also promoted an energy drink and a pharmacy company.
On 11 August 2006, Virenque was taken to hospital at Moûtiers and transferred to Grenoble after falling during a mountain-bike race at Méribel. He broke his nose and needed 32 stitches to his face. Hitting his head led to feelings of worry and of depression, he said, and he lost his sense of smell.
In December 2007, Virenque and his wife, Stéphanie, divorced after 17 years together. They have two children, Clara and Dario. In 2008 he was associated with a 20-year-old model, Jessica Sow, with whom he made a drinks commercial.
Eric Boyer said of Virenque's retirement: "Richard has character, a strong personality. He doesn't let himself go. He looks forwards, never behind. Today, he is a personality [un people]. His return to everyday life has been a success but money isn't an end in itself."
- Seven polkadot jerseys in the Tour de France: 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2003, 2004
- Seven mountain wins: 1994 Luz Ardiden; 1995 Cauterets; 1997 Courchevel; 2000, Morzine; 2002 Mont Ventoux; 2003, Morzine; 2004, Saint-Flour
- Paris–Tours 2001
- Trophée des grimpeurs: 1994
- Tour du Piémont: 1996
- Grand Prix La Marseillaise: 1997
- Bol d'or des Monedières 1992
- Circuit de l'Aulne 1994
- Critérium de Castillon-la-Bataille 1995, 1997, 2002, 2004
- Stage win, Tour du Limousin en 1993
- Stage win, Giro d'Italia 1999
- 4 stages, Critérium du Dauphiné libéré: 1995 (2), 1996 (1), 1998 (1)
- Stage win, Route du Sud 1994
- Critérium de Vayrac: 1996, 1997
- 2nd national road championship 2003; 3rd 1998
- 3rd world road championship 1994
Tour de France
- Tour de France 1992: 25th one day in yellow
- Tour de France 1993: 19th
- Tour de France 1994: 5th, one stage win and best climber
- Tour de France 1995 : 9th, one stage win and best climber
- Tour de France 1996 : 3rd, best climber
- Tour de France 1997 : 2nd, one stage win and best climber
- Tour de France 1998 : disqualified
- Tour de France 1999 : 8th, best climber
- Tour de France 2000 : 6th, one stage win
- Tour de France 2002 : 16th, one stage win
- Tour de France 2003 : 16th, one stage win one day in yellow best climber
- Tour de France 2004 : 15th, one stage win and best climber
- 1999 : 14th and one stage win
Grand Tour General Classification results timeline
DQ = disqualified
- Ma Vérité 1999 Éditions du Rocher, with C. Eclimont and Guy Caput.
- Plus fort qu'avant 2002 Robert Laffont, with Jean-Paul Vespini.
- Richard Virenque Coeur de Grimpeur Mes Plus Belles Etapes 2006 Privat, with Patrick Louis
- Richard Virenque's name is pronounced Ree-shah Vee-rahnk. Virenque considers himself a man of the South but pronounces his name in standard French. Confusion is caused by the southern habit of pronouncing "en" as "ang" or "eng", making it Vee-rank. But Virenque says Vee-rahnk or Vee-ronk, a sound difficult to write in English.
- Virenque's fan club in 2000, two years after the Festina scandal had 5,000 members, of whom 2,000 were described as active. In 2000, Virenque received 589 letters in three weeks during the Tour de France, more than any other rider.
- The other riders who have won stages over 10 years apart were Jean Alavoine, Henri Pélissier, Philippe Thys, Louis Mottiat, André Leducq, Antonin Magne, René Vietto, Gino Bartali, André Darrigade, Jean Stablinski, Raymond Poulidor, Felice Gimondi, Gerben Karstens, Ferdinand Bracke, Joaquim Agostinho, Lucien Van Impe and Lance Armstrong. The 19th to have done it is Cédric Vasseur.
- Virenque's mother, Bérangère, was born in the Alpes-Maritimes region of France, the daughter of a public works entrepreneur. She moved to Morocco when she was young and spent her childhood there. She gained qualifications as a hairdresser and beautician but never worked, at the request of her father and of her husband.
- Many cycling clubs in France have separate sections for riders as young as seven or eight in which coaches introduce and instruct them in cycling. The sections are referred to as cycling schools.
- Laurent Jalabert had already done his national service in the army's 'sports specialist' battalion at Joinville in Paris; Jean-Cyril Robin, Eddy Seigneur, Philippe Ermenault and others were there at the same time as Virenque. Robin recalled a quiet, thoughtful man who, the moment anything started, dedicated himself to it. "He really joined in war exercises," he told Vélo. He remembered an incident when Virenque walked across a frozen lake for a bet, followed by a hail of stones and rocks in an effort to break the ice.
- ASPTT — Association Sportive Poste Téléphones Télégrams, a national grouping of sports clubs associated with the former PTT, the national communications organisation. The ASPTT still exists but without its former close links to the post office.
- Colloquially, riding une course d'enfer would translate as "like a bat out of hell."
- Virenque had been asked to stay away from the 1999 Tour de France along with Manolo Saiz, manager of a Spanish team who in withdrawing his riders from the 1998 Tour said he had "stuffed [his] finger up the Tour's arse." Virenque's lawyers depended on a clause in the UCI's rules, number 1.2.048, which says tour organisers must say at least 30 days before a race whom they wished to admit. The Tour had not done so. The UCI also obliged the Tour to accept Saiz.
- The phrase "willingly but without knowing" returns in a later sketch by 'Les Guignols de l'info', in which Virenque mistakes tennis player Amélie Mauresmo for a cyclist: video at http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-1203579429921376149
- The extra weight (10kg) has been much quoted but Virenque told a meeting of readers of the French magazine, Vélo, that it wasn't unusual for him to put on that much weight in the winter.
- Virenque began training with Jalabert who was recovering from a fall while working on his house. Virenque said they made their comeback rides together, although he said he was in the worse shape "I was in a rotten condition physically and my heart suffered at the slightest effort and my muscles had melted."
- The 'Jean Delatour' team told L'Équipe in January 2001 that Virenque had ridden with its riders only because the team was holding a training camp in Virenque's region and that he had come only to see friends
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- Ajouter un commentaire. "Jessica Sow, Nina le 19 janvier 2008". Ninapeople.com. Retrieved 19 July 2012.
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