The Imperfect Past of Laurent Jalabert

Laurent Jalabert 1998

L’Equipe reports Laurent Jalabert tested positive for EPO after tests were done on samples collected from the 1998 Tour de France. Like many a scandal it’s not the evil deed but the cover-up that causes controversy. A pro cyclist from late 1990s using EPO? Big deal. But a contemporary media figure stuck in a tangled web of half-truths and denials? Awkward.

But look beyond the headlines and the promise of sample storage is an added deterrent. Whilst many in France shoot the messenger, being able to test samples from the past is an advance, the only problem is that the test results needed an enquiry by the French senate to link names to the positive sample. More names are coming.

Jalabert et les autres
A batch of samples kept from this race were retroactively tested for EPO as part of a research project to validate the urine test for EPO. Done anonymously so no rider could be caught at the time it turned out so many samples tested positive for EPO that the doctor in charge wondered if the testing was wrong. It’s believed 44 out of 60 samples tested positive for EPO, then being over the 85% threshold for the isoform, a threshold that has since been reduced.

But back in the day there was no test for EPO and its use was widespread. Remember this was the Tour where Festina were ejected, and Marco Pantani was probably injected on his way to winning. Laurent Jalabert himself left the race along with his ONCE team in protest. It is similar to Lance Armstrong’s positive EPO test from 1999 that was splashed on the front of L’Equipe after his retirement in 2005.

Jalabert at the Senate hearing

Nor should the timing of Jalabert’s positive come as a surprise. The French Senate is enquiring into doping in sport and when “Jaja” was appearing in front of the senators in a public hearing he was told the samples from the past were being linked to names, for example Velonews ran a piece with the headline “French legislature could match 1998 Tour samples with names.”

Jalabert’s appearance at the Senate was surprising, a case study in verbal sidestepping for students of Machiavelli. He downplayed his win in the 1995 Vuelta, suggesting his rivals weren’t that good and when asked about doping he said he never went out of his way to hire an infamous doctor or buy EPO for himself. But as we know, ONCE was like Festina: they kept it all in-house, whether the team doc buying EPO in bulk to inject most of the riders. Scottish journo Kenny Pryde examines Jalabert’s stance in full on his site. All the ambiguity of the Senate hearing now collides with the positive test.

All in the past?
If Jalabert is just a figure of the past, think twice. Yes he was trying to stay with Pantani on the road to Oropa or fighting for stage wins in Paris-Nice against Armstrong and that was a long time ago. But today he’s a media figure and one of the voices of cycling in France. He’s just stepped down as the French national selector but better known to the French as the co-commentator for France Télévisions’ cycling coverage and during the Tour de France he has his own radio show, “Club Jalabert” on RTL, France’s biggest station.

All we need is Radio Jaja

It’s here Jalabert’s problems begin to build. His authority as a broadcaster takes a hit. First because of the damage done by the headlines about doping. But second because his denials see him caught, unwilling to admit but not firm enough to deny. Unable to come clean under oath in the solemn setting of the senate, how can he talk straight about a race? If he can’t discuss his own practices, is is able to comment on doping scandals in the sport?

Now I think he probably can provide race commentary. L’Equipe’s story probably ranks alongside last Saturday’s “confession” by Jan Ullrich for the surprise factor amongst season cycling fans. But the wider public might feel let down by these “revelations.” We’ll see what his employers do but note some of those who have confessed have lost their jobs, for example Michael Boogerd and Danny Nelissen in the Netherlands.

There’s also the potential for media mischief. With several radio stations competing for audience share, giving RTL a good kicking over Jalabert might be tempting. You could say the same for TV where Eurosport offers rival coverage to France Télévisions… only the channel has Richard Virenque.

The Fridge That Rattles in the Night
When it’s quiet at night you can sometimes hear the fridge in your kitchen whilst you lie in bed. Now the dodgy riders get the same treatment whilst they lie on the airwaves. A fridge full of their blood and urine rattles away in some distant lab and it could stop a few from sleeping well at night.

We should celebrate the storage of samples. Indeed the French Senators had found one attendee offering advice that “maybe a sample should be kept to analyse later.” The name of this sage? Laurent Jalabert. But we can lament the time it’s taken to connect names to the samples. If only more retro-tests were done although WADA agrees, the principle of retesting is accepted and Russian cyclist Alexandr Serebryakov looks to be caught by this.

French uses two main forms of the past tense, the passé composé and the passé imparfait. As Jalabert’s past catches up with him his denials don’t look so composed and his explanations about unknown injections seem imperfect.

But those sharpening pitchforks to stick into L’Equipe or Jalabert should note the French senate warned this would happen and if Jalabert is named today, the problem was systematic with the ONCE team and the sport as a whole. We can expect others from 1998 and 1999 to be named. Hopefully they have time to prepare themselves rather than resort to denials that border on comedy.

Coming just days ahead of the tour this brings all the wrong headlines but longer term the storage of samples needs to become a firm policy in order to make the present and the future less tense.

51 thoughts on “The Imperfect Past of Laurent Jalabert”

  1. Let’s have the names and hope we get some from Spain and Italy in due course as well and let the likes of Di Luca deter teams from using those named.

  2. Ricco has also said that 48 tests from the 2008 TdF tested positive for CERA.
    One would hope some retroactive suspensions or retests were in the pipeline, but given it’s straight from the Cobra’s mouth, many will just toss his claims aside.

    • It’s just a tweet from him. But we know samples have been kept. At one point the UCI rejected retests for CERA with McQuaid saying:

      “If we’re going to start rejigging the podium of every major international race over the past two or three years, by finding new tests for new products, and going back to the organizer and saying ‘you’ve got to rejig your podium’ .. it makes a complete mockery of sport”

      Fortunately the UCI has since changed its position.

      • I think we all know what’s really made a mockery of the sport! Hard to know where the blame ultimately lies though – pretty much all of them are culpable to some extent.

  3. Jalabert’s quitting his media gigs. Just as you say being caught for EPO is one thing but being unable to talk straight’s another.

  4. I wonder how this fits with sponsorship deals and money earned? We’ve seen Lance being sued (I think) by the us government, but if more samples are re-tested and riders found guilty will we see more companies suing in order to protect their brand names? Yes riders could lose current jobs as commentators but could be set to lose more financially?

    • Lol, your name just brought me out in a cold sweat! There’s a village in Wales with the same name and has a road through it that I’ve ridden. As deeply an unpleasant 5 miles as I can remember!

  5. People just say “imparfait”; a tense used to describe… habitual, routine actions in the past! As in, “quand il était pro, Jalabert se dopait tous les jours.”
    Why doesn’t he just come clean and admit it, ffs? Oh, wait that’s for the book deal…

    • He can’t admit what was always obvious because that is his mindset, the way he lived his sporting life. The book, if it follows the Riis and Millar example, will not be worth the paper it is written on. It is quiet breathtaking that many of those caught still believe their response will somehow be believed. Look forward to more names from the 1999 samples.

      I hope retrospective testing will make those still cheating have second thoughts, and act as an additional deterrent to help eradicate much of the problem.

      • I have not read Riis’s book – I don’t like the man enough to want to know any more about him – but I have read Millar’s and it is far from worthless. It provides a genuine insight into the how a rider becomes a doper. I think Millar was a little too keen to justify his behaviour and I was uncomfortable with the way he implied that Moncoutie didn’t dope because he wasn’t a team man but overall the book gave a nuanced and sympathetic explanation of doping in the peloton without hiding from the dirty truth that it was cheating.

  6. So much for truth and reconciliation.

    I support the building of the scientific knowledge base by anonymously testing old samples. And yes, I have a voyeuristic curiosity about the historical context of the era to know that x% of riders “that were tested”, tested positive.

    But I don’t support the witch hunt. We will spend the rest of our lives waiting for the “why don’t they come clean and admit it” (as Oliver says) from yet another former rider. I, personally, don’t need the reminder that we are all just human, and we all, at one time or another, will struggle to come clean from something.

    • Please stop using “witch hunt” like this. Unless you live in a different world, witches don’t exist – the charges are fabricated to pin people with crimes that are impossible to prove for political, personal, or social gain.

      Doping cyclists WERE doping. And while the idea that were are all humans and we should be sympathetic has some appeal, this contravenes the whole principle of justice. We shouldn’t let doctors and social workers go unpunished from injuring people while driving drunk. Cheating to get an advantage while doing your job? why yes please.

      Which is why I support the idea of truth and reconciliation panels – get it all out in the open. Just because other drivers are speeding doesn’t mean you won’t be punished if you’re stopped.

  7. I saw you mentioning Danny Nelissen and Michael Boogerd. Boogerd was commentator for NOS (public television) and got sent away there, Nelissen was on RTL’s ‘Tour du Jour’. Guess who is this year’s new guy at RTL? Boogerd. You’d wish they’d make a point and hire a clean guy. Of course it won’t be a big name but who cares.

    • I don’t mind if dopers continue to work in the cycling industry (media, DS or whatever) provided they are open and honest about their past. What I am sick of is this tokenism whereby a past rider confesses to doping and is fired only to be replaced by someone just as dodgy. Either you don’t want to associate with doping or you are ambivalent but at present it seems like the media outlets are primarily concerned with being seen to be anti doping but, once the publicity dies down, they don’t really care.

  8. What about Indurain? He seems to be the one that’s stayed well under the radar yet on a w/kg is one of the most “amazing” TdF winners yet. Surely, he’s not the only winner from that era that didn’t take EPO……………

    • Quite right. This is, in my opinion, the last great unanswered question of the EPO era.

      Indurain is the bridge between the pre-EPO era, when we can plausibly believe that Greg Lemond won clean, and those who doped (Delgado, etc) did so using far less effective substances, and the ultra-juiced late 90s where heavy doping by all major participants has been confirmed and admitted.

      That early-90s transition is interesting–we know what began to happen, but testimony from various riders suggests that it took a couple of years for systematic team doping programs to become ubiquitous. A Columbian cyclist, whose name I forget, was quoted in an article a couple of years ago that suggested things became impossible for clean riders in ’92 or ’93 as teams began adopting doping regimens. But Indurain won in ’91, supposedly before EPO was widespread. And he won mountain stages before EPO was even available.

      Was he a genuinely talented superhuman whose real advantages were eclipsed by doping, or was he (from Spain and a teammate of Pedro Delgado…) one of the first adopters that ceased to be dominant when everyone else caught up?

      Based on experience, I have strong opinions, but I wish we could get the truth.

      • 1) Lemond was probably as juiced as any TdF winner after WWII. His doctor at Z (Bellocq) had no more credibility than Induráin’s (Padilla).
        2) Induráin was most likely on EPO at least in 1995 (remember La Plagne, destroying Pantani and Rominger and everybody, uphill, more than Armstrong ever did).
        3) He was very probably on EPO in 1994 (remember Bergerac, sending everybody, including Ferrari’s best Rominger, minutes away).
        4) 1992 and, especially 1991, are more dubious. It’s not impossible that he was equal, even slightly superior, to already EPO-ed Bugno, without EPO, and that as he started to use the drug himself, he left his Italian rival miles behind.
        5) Blood doping was already there in 1988 (see the recently published transfusions programme at PDM). I personally believe that in 1989 most GC contenders in the TdF were already reinjecting their own blood (Hinault was already commenting on this practice, banned in 1986 while obviously undetectable back then, in 1988, quite uncritically).
        6) In 1990, Induráin was already the strongest man in the race (beating Lemond in every realm). I personally believe he was on transfusions too.
        7) I don’t think any of this humiliates Lemond, Induráin or Bugno, great riders the 3 of them. Whatever the unknown details.

        • I have, of course, neglected to include the possibility of blood transfusions, which were known to be effective in the 80s and are still presumed to be effective today. Wouldn’t surprise me at all if it was a major factor in the late 80s. And it wouldn’t surprise me if Indurain was using them.

          I confess to not know much about the history of Greg’s doctors, and it is possible he was taking stuff, but his post-cycling activities and stances do not fit the profile of someone who is “just as guilty” as everyone else. Your typical late 90s/early 00s doper would defend themselves loudly, while being quiet and non-judgmental about others. LeMond, motivated by some combination of justice and perhaps jealousy, went after people he felt (rightly) to be doping with unusual passion. For him, the benefits of his crusade would be far outweighed by the risks of being exposed for any past doping offenses he may have committed.

          But that’s just character conjecture, which has no empirical value.

        • I just find it unusual that if Lemond had doped it looks pretty hypocritical when he is so vocal in the media with regard to doping? I would expect him to keep his head down if he knew he was guilty of taking anything during his career that could pop up at a later date? It seems that no one is scared to speak up these days when it comes to doping in cycling so why hasn’t there been an ex team mate or staff member who has spoken up?

          Just saying it seems odd to me with your doping hypotheticals…

    • I’m unsure about this. I think we can assume certain things given he was working with questionable doctors and beating the likes of Pantani, Virenque, Bugno, Zulle. But does he have to be called out for it and humiliated? For me it’s a bit like Jan Ullrich’s confession last weekend, surely we knew anyway?

      But as Duluth Baptist Clydesdale suggests, there are questions to answer.

  9. Would all the riders from the 1990’s and Noughties who were CLEAN, please step forward! (Its easier to sort out the mess). Ha ha I was always a big admirer of Jaja in his prime but I never thought he was running on Perrier and baguettes. These pillocks still in denial.

    • Yes and Stephens has been approved by the Vance Report in Australia to continue with the team. Personally I find his explanation is ridiculous but each to their own and it’s obviously worked out well for him.

    • True. It depends on the employer. I don’t think Orica GreenEdge are picky on past doping issues. Mat White is back as well. Back to business as usual. With other teams it may not be possible.
      Jalabert was in the media business. Usually they, like Orica, are not picky on past doping issues but in this case his employers needed to cover their ass so they sacked Jaja.

  10. Yes “being caught for EPO is one thing but being unable to talk straight’s another” and Jalabert can only blame himself for that. The most difficult part is probably not to talk to the media & public but to finally tell the truth to his children.
    But the mainstream media are also the villain in this story. When they hired Jalabert, FranceTV certainly had an idea of what he did with ONCE & CSC. After 2005 (EPO post testing) and 2006 (Puerto) they were 99% certain he doped and they could have chosen not to renew him. But they didn’t. Now that L’Equipe (not a court or the senate) claim Jalabert was doping in 98, they sack him immediately. That’s pure hypocrisy and “pure cover my ass” strategy. So what does it imply ?
    1) FranceTV are a bunch of dumb guys with low IQs and poor evaluation of the ethics. In 2010 they chose to bring another consultant alongside Jaja: Cedric Vasseur , French rider, maillot jaune in 97 and teammate of Armstrong at USPS. There were many safer choices then Vasseur, who did well on RTBF in the past. What if Vasseur has something to confess ? Will he talk ? Of course not. Head of FranceTV sport or head of cycling shall then be sacked for their inability to enforce ethics criteria.
    2) FranceTV just wanted popular names for the Tour to compete with Eurosport & others. They should admit past doping is not so important for them. But then they become a key part of the doping equation by admitting ethics is purely secondary. Thus head of FranceTV sport or head of cycling shall then be sacked. It’s a TV and of course TV, and more so public TV, have ethical values 😉
    May be 1 or 2 is false but no doubt it’s a dead-end situation and something must be tried to avoid it. T&R commission or harsher sanctions, I don’t know what but something must be done.

    • Jalabert’s only resigned for now, he’s not been sacked by FranceTV.

      There always been questions over him – see the Cyclisme & Dopage website which has kept on asking them – but nothing ever stuck. It’s said Jalabert refused because it would be too hard for his kids, a common theme.

      • You’re right he has resigned. His own choice. And he probably hasn’t received a call from FTV to “discuss the situation”…
        Many knew Jalabert doped (75% of 98Tour EPO tests were positive) and hide the truth but even if they didn’t frontly sack Jaja, FTV and RTL have their responsibilities: they hire consultants with dubious records to promote the Tour and then they claim they are profondly anti-doping and want a clean Tour.

  11. The mainstream and cycling media should take much responsibility for the past – their silence is deafening . They knew what was going on and ignored it to get ‘copy’, aided in full by a corrupt International body – It’s all about money. The problem does/did not lie just with just France TV. Remember ASO sacked the one person in their organizational team who tried to tackle the problem, and who fell out with the UCI in the process. Ditto L’Equipe, firing the one journalist who would not ignore the truth, the infamous Liggett, HVB and so it goes on and on.
    It is therefore little wonder that those now exposed as frauds, cheats and liars feel unable to face their past and the truth. They inhabited a daily environment where crooks, frauds, cheats and liars were the norm. The really important question is what about those that they cheated, both financially and in their ambitions and dreams. The last two can never be replaced.

    Best to accept this was a sport rotten to the core. Lets hope the future brings management with some moral fiber, courage and determination that never again will we or young riders have to relive the events of the recent past.

  12. I have a beautiful Look KG381i KOM edition, which was purchase because of Jalabert’s inspirational 2002 KOM classification in the tour. It’s really brilliant to ride, fun to see the red dots all over when you look down and ultimately heightens the Alpha State of Mind when I ride it . I will stick my head in the sand deeper on the Jalabert matter and just continue to enjoy the bike.

    • BBBUUUZZZZZ CLAnk, klunk, klunk, klunk. ugh. the. ice. maker. that thing rolling over scares the crap out of me every time. think i’d get used to it some year.

      JaJa will chill for a while, start a pod-cast, then eventually latch back on to the big time.

      but let me know if Virenque owns/buys/rents a white Ford Bronco.

  13. JaJa doped? Should be no surprise to anyone in France- why do you think he moved to Switzerland in the later part of his career?
    Not for tax reasons but for the pharmacies…

  14. Very good piece, including the fridge image. I thought for a while you had given up doping matters, by not commenting on the Puerto verdict, or Fantini fantasies.
    I support sample storage and retesting, as long as it’s only meant to establish truths, and not to impose sanctions or rewrite results 15 years later or whatever. There must be a moment when the referee decides to blow the whistle or not, for the competition to be functional, and this is very important too, so it can’t be all about curbing and deterring doping. Leaving results eternally open to revision would result in eternal legal wrangling, and the final results, as we know, would not be fairer than Pereiro’s victory over Landis. Suffice it for everybody to know, as we did for years about Thévenet, how victories were achieved.

    • Not given up on the topic, it’s just there’s not much to go on with the Fantini piece. Note Di Luca’s A-sample positive came over a month ago but there’s still no news on the B-sample yet.

      As for the whistle, that’s the eight year statute of limitations in the WADA Code. Nobody’s going to take Jalabert’s wins away. His problem is more the attempt to deny what happened and how this plays with his credibility as a broadcaster, especially as today’s edition of L’Equipe mentions perjury charges after his Senate hearing held under oath.

      • Yes, we have the 8-year rule (too long, in fact, IMHO), but it didn’t matter with Armstrong and there’s talk of stripping Ullrich of past results too. More importantly, some people are defending limitless retroactive testing, for maximum determent (where is Coppi’s skeleton?), and it’s these people I disagree with.

    • I don’t think so. He’d said the selector job didn’t pay much but took up time. He’d done his duty there but hadn’t achieved much over the years although of course he could only work with the riders available.

  15. Loved the Radio Jaja caption.

    You’ve come up with some lovely ones over the years, but no doubt
    You’ve yet to have your finest hour


  16. I say dig up the dirt – no matter how long it takes. Certainly in the short-term it’s damaging to the sport’s image but ONLY if these cheaters (who get away with it so often, keeping the prize money, endorsements and other fruits of their fraud) eventually are unmasked and humiliated will the future cheaters perhaps think twice about cheating. I’m coming around to the idea that ALL of them, whether they’re repentant anti-doping crusaders like Vaughters or lying scum like Mr. 60%, should learn there is NO place for dopers (ex or otherwise) in pro cycling.

  17. This comes as no surprise, not a shock, not disgusted etc, just another great day for the anti doping movement. People that are involved in cycling (and I mean from people like me that ride sportives etc to Pat McQuaid) know who is likely to have been a doper and who hasn’t, it’s just that some of us are more ambivalent toward the doping culture than others.

    I think the question all serious cycling fans need to ask themselves is this – What is the sport you love? Is it the sport where men make superhuman efforts, imbued with romance and the wild natural beauty of a mountain stage, a solo breakaway against all the odds, (one man beating the chasing mob, which is what t comes down to and why it resonates so deeply with us, our, the human, desire to beat the majority) who turns out to be a flawed hero, and his heroism wasn’t heroic, merely chemically enhanced. Cycling is built entirely on these scenarios.

    What is the thing that makes you love cycling? I’d hazard a guess that or most of us it’s the drug fuelled heroism. So again, what sport do you love?

    Cycling has never been clean, it has always been a chemically enhanced sport, we are probably in the cleanest period in its history and guess what? It’s the dullest period in its history as well.

    You can look forward to the best funded, most disciplined train winning every grand tour, breakaway wins only when the GC contenders can’t be arsed sending the remorseless, automaton team riders to chase it down, this is what the future is. Hats of to Bradley Wiggins for winning the tour but it was the most mathematically, anodyne piece of grand tor winning cycling I’ve ever seen, unless time trials float your boat.

    Who are tomorrows heroes?

    People need to think about this stuff, yes drug cheats need to be caught, but no super drugs means no superhuman efforts, just a lot of diesel engines.

    Only cyclist I pay any attention to in a fanboy style way is Cavendish, talent, charisma and a sour little bastard when he loses, love him!

    Think on my fellow roadies, the future is not always bright.

  18. Nicole Cooke said Dopers win on the way up, and they win on the way down- media contracts, advertisements, William hill book awards
    . The truth might set you free, but living with the lie surely boosts your post-career earnings, and when you are found out there is always the confessional autobiography.

    I am not her agent, but broadcast media should embrace someone as forthright and eloquent as Nicole

  19. Parkypark – I’m in full agreement, but Nicole Cooke would be far to forthright in her views for the mainstream, apologetic media, this website included. Until we reach the stage that after every dopers name we have a (D) i.e. Alberto Contador (D) so we all know exactly what he is and what he probably will resort to again as he can regain the ‘special ability to suffer’ that he no longer has. Every single doper, name them, (D), every time their name is mentioned.

    But then that would be a shameful thing for lots of apologists and people who would rather keep these things, if not quiet, then at low volume.

    I put it to the owner of this site, place a (D) after every convicted dopers name, be the first, start the change.

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