Festina. The name alone instantly conjurs up the spectre of doping, and in particular the 1998 Tour de France, when soigneur Willy Voet was caught with a cache of medications that would’ve done Pfizer proud. That the term “Festina affair” has become synonymous with 98 and the name of the watch company, has clouded the fact that the team had a roster of talented riders the likes of Virenque, Zulle and Dufaux, plus some lesser lights who would be elevated to the heady heights of stage wins and stints in yellow, through a combination of their own talent, good luck, and being in the right place at the right time. One of these riders was Pascal Lino.
The Frenchman was an Olympian on the track in the Seoul ’88 games, but really came to the attention of the road racing world and garnered the adoration of his countrymen in the ’92 Tour, when, riding for the RMO team, he spent eleven days in the Maillot Jaune after a strong Prologue, then finding himself in a big break on the 3rd stage, taking the lead on GC from his teammate Virenque. An opportunist move that became the template for Little Tommy Voeckler to emulate some twelve years later? Probably not, but no other Frenchman spent as much time in the leader’s jersey in the interim, or since. Pascal would finish on the Champs Elysses in 5th overall.
Lino himself though rates his stage win the very next year as a greater personal achievement, as he recounted in 2009 on the Tour’s official website:
I knew that there would be a big mountain stage in the Pyrenees on the following day and that on this kind of stage, breaks were bound to happen. I placed myself in the lead as the pack moved closer to the climb up the Mont St Clair in the first moments of the day’s race. The climb was covered very rapidly with Bjarne Riis in front. Then in the downhill portion, a group of five pulled away including me and Bruyneel, Chiesa, Faresin and Perini. With 20 kilometres to go, I decided to attack, taking with me Giancarlo Perini. Everything was going well until the last ten kilometres when Perini decided to stop his efforts, leaving me to work in front. We eventually made it to Perpignan together for stage victory. I launched my sprint with 300m to go with a face wind, probably too early but I managed to hang on. And I won by only a few centimetres.
I didn’t immediately know that I had won. I recently saw footage of the stage on TV and realised that I hadn’t had the time to lift my arms up. After the line, I immediately asked one of my team members if I had won and he too didn’t know. French journalist Jean-Paul Ollivier came to see me for an interview and in the middle of it I was finally told that I had won. I had won a stage on the Tour de France. I had saved my Tour. Added to that, I had been the only French winner that year.
The truth is that today, the average follower mainly knows about my days with the yellow jersey in 1992. People don’t necessarily know that I finished fifth in the Tour of 1992, or even that I won that famous Perpignan stage. But I indeed have my Tour stage!
After finishing 11th in ’93, like so many of the other Evanescent Riders we have looked back at, Lino would not recapture his former Tour glory, with his only win of note coming at Paris-Camembaert in 1998. Yet Pascal found that he craved the adulation that he’d grown accustomed to in the 90s, and found his niche as a celebrity impersonator, appearing at parties and functions as the doppelganger of Michael Schumacher. He also allegedly had some shady connections when on the Roslotto team, along with the likewise-evanescent Piotr Ugrumov, and later started his own mobile bottom inspection company.
It certainly was a strange, tangled web in the pro peloton of the 90s, and Pascal Lino was right in the thick of it.