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By VeloNews Interactive wire services, Copyright 2001 AFP
Former Festina rider Richard Virenque has hit back at claims alleging he bribed Germany’s former Tour de France winner Jan Ullrich to allow him to win a stage in the 1997 Tour de France, while Ullrich said Wednesday he is “sick and tired” of being implicated in “unproven” indirect claims that he took drugs and accepted bribes.The bribery claims were made by former Festina team manager Bruno Roussel, who also claimed that other offers made by Virenque to riders who could have helped him win the Tour in 1997 were laughed off.In his tell-all book “Tour of Vices,” which went on sale Wednesday, Roussel said five-time king of the mountains Virenque paid Ullrich 100,000 Francs ($13,000) to let him win the Courchevel stage.But Virenque – who is still suspended from cycling after he admitted to drug-taking with Festina – said Roussel’s claims are wide of the mark.”I don’t know anything about this. Anyway, if you look at the pictures of the sprint (between him and Ullrich) there’s no case to answer. I was better than him (Ullrich),” Virenque told sports daily L’Equipe Tuesday.Roussel, whose book extracts are being published by respected French daily Le Monde this week, also claimed Virenque could have come within a hair’s breadth of winning the Tour de France in 1997.However, according to Roussel, 10,000-franc ($1300) bribes made to Spaniard Abraham Olano and Italian Marco Pantani to help Virenque win the Freiburg-Colmar stage were derisory, and simply laughed off.But Virenque retorted: “Bruno (Roussel) has really taken me for an idiot. I mean, do you think I would be so naive to believe that I could buy a stage victory in the Tour de France for 100,000 francs?”Everything he says is false. What happened that day was that Olano and moreso Pantani did not want to ride for my benefit, that’s all … “Meanwhile, Ullrich also responded the bribery allegations, as well as doping claims made by Willy Voet.Former Festina masseur Voet on Monday claimed that to his knowledge in the past 30 years every winner of the world’s most grueling bike race had been guilty of using performance-enhancing drugs.Voet sparked the 1998 Tour de France scandal after being picked up by customs officers on the French-Belgian border with a car load of drugs.But after Voet’s claims Telekom rider Ullrich immediately threatened legal action.”This is a serious slur on my reputation. If we can take action against such statements through the courts, I’ll do it.”Ullrich barely had time to contact his lawyers when on Tuesday Roussel’s allegations of bribery came out.Ullrich, currently training for this year’s Tour, retorted: “What can I say? With such accusations with nothing to back them up people are just trying to make money.”Meanwhile Telekom team manager Rudy Pevenage said Roussel’s accusations were ridiculous.”I can’t even begin to imagine such a thing. One hundred thousand francs to hand someone a stage victory is simply ridiculous.”Contrary to the legal action against Voet, Ullrich does not envisage taking legal advice against Roussel’s claims.”We don’t want to descend to that level. We will keep an eye on what happens next but what we want most is to appear in the sports pages of newspapers,” said Telekom manager Wolfgang Strohband.