By David Robson: For Complete Post, Click Here…
It is 18 July 1997, at stage 12 of the Tour de France, and Richard Virenque, of the French team Festina, is preparing for the 55-km individual time trial in Saint-Étienne. These trials aren’t his specialism and, having heard of a new drug that will supposedly deliver him a spurt of energy, he asks his physiotherapist, Willy Voet, to procure the ‘magic potion’.
Voet is soon in possession of a small jar of a mysterious white liquid, which he is told to inject into Virenque’s buttocks before the event. On race day, Voet faithfully delivers an injection – and the results are breathtaking. Virenque goes head-to-head with his great rival Jan Ullrich for much of the race. Although the German eventually wins, Virenque is only 3 minutes and 4 seconds behind him – a much better result that day than he could have imagined. ‘God I felt good!’ he later told Voet. ‘That stuff’s just amazing.’
Little did Virenque know that there was no active ingredient in the magic potion. Before delivering the injection, Voet – who feared trying a new substance mid-tournament – had swapped the mysterious white substance for a glucose solution. ‘There is no substitute for self-belief,’ the physiotherapist would later write in his autobiography, Breaking the Chain (2001).