By Graham Healy
To say that the 1994 Fleche Wallone raised eyebrows would be to put it mildly. The Italian Moreno Argentin and two of his Gewiss team-mates, Evgeni Berzin and Giorgio Furlan filled the podium, but it was the manner of the win which was astounding. The trio just rode away from the rest of the peloton with 69 kilometres still remaining and pulled away from the really strong chasing group.
The race that year was 205 kilometres long and featured three ascents of the Mur de Huy. The early break had been caught as the peloton ascended the Mur for the second time, as Gewiss led the bunch up the climb. Going over the top, one of the Gewiss team, Bruno Cenghialta let a gap open to his three team mates and they pulled clear.
The trio then rode a team time-trial to the finish, and despite a concerted effort by the likes of Lance Armstrong, Davide Rebellin, Claudio Chiappucci, Franco Ballerini, Davide Cassani and Gianni Bugno, they finished well clear of the rest. Bugno claimed fourth place, 1’14” behind.
Afterwards, Armstrong said that “they crushed us.” It was obvious to many observers that what they had witnessed wasn’t natural and questions were asked.
After the race, French sports newspaper L’Équipe interviewed the team’s doctor Michele Ferrari. Journalist Jean-Michel Rouet asked Ferrari if his riders used EPO. Ferrari denied prescribing the drug but said he would not find it wrong, saying that it was not dangerous and compared taking EPO to drinking orange juice.
He told the reporter, “I do not prescribe this thing. But EPO is freely available in Switzerland, for example, without a prescription and if a rider uses it, it does not fundamentally alter the performance of the rider. EPO is not dangerous, it is the abuse that is. It is also dangerous to drink ten litres of orange juice.”
In addition to their victory in Fleche Wallonne, the Gewiss team also took victories that year in Tirreno-Adriatico, Criterium International and Milan-San Remo through Furlan, and Liege-Bastogne-Liege was won by Berzin. However, their domination of the sport would not continue as other teams would play catch-up.