The 1998 Tour de France was the 85th edition of the Tour de France and took place between 11 July and 2 August. For the first time the tour started in Ireland.
The 1998 edition of Tour de France was won by Marco Pantani, with podium placing of Jan Ullrich, the defending champion, and American Bobby Julich. Erik Zabel won his third consecutive green jersey in the points classification. Christophe Rinero claimed the polka dot jersey as the winner of the mountains classification.
Because the 1997 Tour had seen many crashes in the first week, organisers of the Tour, Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), decided to reduce the number of teams from 22 to 21. 189 riders in 21 teams commenced the 1998 Tour de France, only 96 riders finished. The first round of teams that were invited were the sixteen teams of the UCI Rankings on 1 January 1998, provided that they were still in the top 20 after transfers were factored into the calculation. All these sixteen teams fulfilled this requirement. Later, the ASO gave wildcard invitions to four teams. with one team added by special invitation:
The teams entering the race were:
The 1998 tour was marred by several doping scandals throughout, together known as the Festina affair, starting with the arrest of Willy Voet, a soigneur in the French Festina team. Initially the doping suspicion only surrounded the two teams Festina and TVM, but later investigations and retrospective tests revealed the doping abuse was far more widespread. Therefore, this edition of the Tour also became nicknamed by many media sources, as the "Tour du Dopage" (Tour of Doping).
In 2004, 60 remaining antidoping samples given by riders during the 1998 Tour, were tested retrospectively for recombinant EPO by using three recently developed detection methods. The results of these tests were published to have returned 44 positives and 9 negatives, with the remaining 7 samples not returning any result due to sample degradation. At first, the rider names with a positive sample were not made public, as it had only been conducted as scientific research.
In July 2013, the antidoping committee of the French Senate however decided it would benefit the current doping fight to shed full light on the past, and so decided — as part of their "Commission of Inquiry into the effectiveness of the fight against doping" report — to publish all sample IDs along with the result of the retrospective test. This publication revealed, that the 9 negative samples belonged to 5 riders (of whom two nevertheless had confessed using EPO in that Tour), while the 44 positive samples belonged to 33 riders — including race winner Marco Pantani, runner-up Jan Ullrich, third on the podium Bobby Julich, and points-competition winner Erik Zabel. Bobby Julich had already one year prior publication of his positive test, admitted using EPO from August 1996 to July 1998. When combining the EPO abuse confessions of the two riders testing negative with all the positive test results, it was indicated that 35 out of the 38 retrospectively tested riders (92%) had been using EPO in the 1998 Tour de France.
In addition to those 92% of the 38 riders in the retrospective test, who either tested EPO positive or confessed EPO abuse, 9 out of 9 Festina riders and 2 out of 9 TVM riders, who were not tested by the retrospective test but implicated in prior police investigations, also confessed using EPO in the Tour. Finally at least five more riders, who were neither retrospectively tested nor a part of TVM/Festina, opted later on also to confess having doped with EPO in the 1998 edition of the Tour. All in all, more than 50 riders have now been confirmed either by tests/confessions, to have used EPO doping during the 1998 Tour de France.
There were several classifications in the 1998 Tour de France. The most important was the general classification, calculated by adding each cyclist's finishing times on each stage. The cyclist with the least accumulated time was the race leader, identified by the yellow jersey; the winner of this classification is considered the winner of the Tour.
Additionally, there was a points classification, which awarded a green jersey. In the points classification, cyclists got points for finishing among the best in a stage finish, or in intermediate sprints. The cyclist with the most points lead the classification, and was identified with a green jersey.
There was also a mountains classification. The organisation had categorized some climbs as either hors catégorie, first, second, third, or fourth-category; points for this classification were won by the first cyclists that reached the top of these climbs first, with more points available for the higher-categorized climbs. The cyclist with the most points lead the classification, and was identified with a polkadot jersey.
The fourth individual classification was the young rider classification, which was not marked by a jersey. This was decided the same way as the general classification, but only riders under 26 years were eligible.
For the team classification, the times of the best three cyclists per team on each stage were added; the leading team was the team with the lowest total time.
For the combativity award classification, a jury gave points after each stage to the cyclists they considered most combative. The cyclist with the most votes in all stages lead the classification.