Italian Marco Pantani, Germany’s Jan Ullrich and Bobby Julich of the US, who were the top three riders in the 1998 Tour de France, were all taking the banned blood booster erythropoietin (EPO), according to reports published by French daily Le Monde on Tuesday.
The revelations come just ahead of a report on doping on the Tour by a French parliamentary commission that was to be released yesterday.
The commission made waves on May 15 by announcing that French senators from the upper chamber of parliament would reveal the identities of the riders that used EPO during the race.
Last month, former French rider Laurent Jalabert was alleged to have been one of those implicated through comparison of retrospective testing results from 2004 and a list of anonymous samples from 1998.
Jalabert immediately stepped down as a television and radio pundit for this year’s Tour, which was won on Sunday last week by British rider Chris Froome.
German sprinter Erik Zabel, who won the green points jersey in 1998, is also cited by Le Monde as having taken EPO on the way to victory.
Since then, there has been debate in France about the utility of naming names, with the family of Pantani, who died in 2004, saying they were against identifying riders.
Professional cyclists’ union the CPA last Friday said that it, too, was opposed to publication.
“Publication of a list amounts ... to an accusation of doping without any means of defense,” the union said, arguing that no counter-analysis was possible as the original samples no longer existed.
Nevertheless, the senators are believed to be likely to publish the riders’ identities and could equally include lists of samples taken on the 1999 Tour, which was won by US rider Lance Armstrong.
Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour wins and banned from cycling for life last year for doping.
The commission questioned 84 witnesses under oath, from sportsmen and women to organizers and anti-doping experts, to “lift the lid” on and “break the code of silence” on the subject.
However, cycling, with its doping-scarred past, has not been the only sport under scrutiny, with attention also being paid to rugby.
The French Anti-Doping Agency assessed that rugby was the most affected by doping in relation to its testing, while soccer and tennis were also being examined.
France soccer coach Didier Deschamps was questioned behind closed doors, while tennis came under the scanner for its relative lack of testing at an international level.
The French senators are aiming to frame legislation on sport and put it before parliament for debate next year.