Report: Top 2 riders in '98 Tour de France used EPO

Paris, Jul 24 (EFE).- The top two finishers in the 1998 Tour de France - Italy's Marco Pantani and Germany's Jan Ullrich - were among the riders who took the prohibited blood booster EPO, according to a probe by lawmakers here.

Parisian daily Le Monde said Tuesday that the French Senate committee's list of dopers from the '98 Tour - not detected until late 2004 - also included the third-place finisher, U.S. rider Bobby Julich.

But the official report, released Wednesday, did not find hard evidence that the American was also using that performance-enhancing drug.

Pantani, the winner of the 1998 Tour, died in 2004 of a drug overdose. Both Ullrich and Julich have admitted to using EPO.

The report found that Germany's Erik Zabel, who won the green jersey in 1998 as top sprinter, also tested positive for EPO at the 1998 Tour, as did Frenchmen Laurent Jalabert, Jacky Durand and Laurent Desbiens.

That year's Tour was marred by a doping scandal involving the Festina cycling team, whose masseur, Willy Voet, was arrested after a shipment of doping products was found in his possession by customs agents at the Belgian-French border.

The hard evidence on riders from the 1998 Tour came from tests conducted in 2004 at France's Ch√Ętenay-Malabry laboratory, which employed a new method for detecting EPO.

The Senate report was to have been formally unveiled on July 18 during this year's Tour de France - coinciding with one of the race's signature stages, the climb of Alpe d'Huez - but its release was postponed amid pressure by the professional cyclists' union.