PIC BY TDWSPORT.COM
Yesterday morning in Courchevel, Richard Virenque, who was kicked tearfully out of the 1998 Tour de France, precipitating a dramatic ethical crisis in cycling and almost bringing the Tour to a halt, trotted boyishly through the start village crowds, shaking hands and offering a jaunty 'bonjour.' His past misdemeanours are, apparently, long forgotten.
Not long before this, Dario Frigo, of Fassa Bortolo, was arrested at his team hotel. After a day of questioning, Frigo and his wife Susanna were released from the Palais de Justice in Albertville at a quarter past nine last night. The 31 year old may be free to go home to Monaco, but he is unlikely to ever race professionally again.
Frigo and his wife have been charged with contraband offences relating to the importation and usage of banned products. They face three-year prison sentences, although this seems unlikely to be imposed once their case is heard, with a hefty fine and a suspended sentence thought more likely.
Susanna Frigo was stopped late on Monday afternoon, the Tour's rest day, at the toll booth on the French autoroute at Saint-Helene-sur-Isere, apparently on her way to Courchevel. Reports indicate that she had not been targeted and that it was a random search of her car that ensued. The police found several pharmaceutical products, including syringes. They also found a thermos flask packed with ice and several vials of an indeterminate product, which is suspected to be EPO.
She initially argued that these products were for Botox treatment, but she was taken into custody and the vials sent to the now renowned Toxlab in Paris for analysis. Some reports say that towards the end of her 48 hours in custody, Susanna Frigo explained that the vials contained a very effective doping product and that they were for her husband.
Frigo had apparently expected to meet his wife at Courchevel and became concerned when she did not answer her mobile phone that evening. Some sources report that on the evening of the 10th stage, as he ate with his team-mates, he became increasingly agitated over her whereabouts and even suggested calling the police. He didn't need to - they came looking for him in the grey dawn of the next day.
Fassa Bortolo's general manager, Giancarlo Ferretti was enraged by his rider's downfall. "Two years ago, I took him back to give him a second chance. I thought he had made a mistake and that he had acknowledged it. I was wrong. Frigo is a halfwit, he's not devious. He's a delinquent who should be placed with other delinquents. He has nothing to offer cycling and those at the roadside, and I really hope that his career is over and that no other teams take him on."
Ferretti's bold words were echoed by many, but as Virenque smiled and nodded his way through the crowds in the Alpine sunshine yesterday morning, few of those who suffered through the humiliations of the 1998 Tour, would bet against the sight of a smiling Dario Frigo, clad in sponsor's casual wear, moving through a Tour start village at some point in the not too distant future.