The 1997 Tour Podium: A Study
No one sanely disputes that the three riders pictured here are dosed up to the eyeballs on EPO. For fans, the 1997 race was the last innocent Tour, before the 1998’s Festina Affair lifted the curtain on the greatest performance enhancing substance endurance sport has ever seen.
The leader in this shot, Marco Pantani, would finish 3rd this year, win the next, and never receive lasting sanctioned beyond a declaration of “unfit to start”—though this came with devastating effect, the day before he would have won the ‘99 Giro. He took 2 stages at the Tour a year later but failed to finish, and produced progressively less compelling results through 2003 as depression and doping allegations devoured his motivation. He committed suicide on Valentine’s Day, 2004.
The second-placed rider here, Richard Virenque, wound up second in Paris in 1997, winning the mountains competition as well. Despite the persistent and ludicrous denials that made him the public face of the Festina Affair, he was punished lightly and went on to win four more stages and three more KOM titles—almost certainly all with pharmaceutical enhancement. He has apologized for nothing, and has enjoyed a celebrity career ever since.
The man at the back, Jan Ullrich, went on to win this Tour de France. He was poorly prepared for the next year’s race and spent a decade waffling in and out of contention with weight and personal problems, before finally being caught up in Operacion Puerto, effectively ending his career. Despite never testing positive for anything other than Ecstasy, DNA matches to stored blood saw him from scratched post-2005 results in 2011. Two years later he admitted doping, and for reasons clear to no one, is now a Rapha spokesperson.