Chris Boardman of Britain won Saturday's prologue of the Tour de France, while a drug scandal involving France's top-rated Festina team marred the Irish start to the world's premier cycling race.

Boardman raced to victory on the 3.5-mile route through central Dublin in 6 minutes, 12.36 seconds - 4.6 seconds better than runner-up Abraham Olano of Spain.France's Laurent Jalabert, the world time trial champion, was third, 4.69 seconds behind Boardman. American Bobby Julich, who races for the French Cofidis team, finished fourth, 4.77 back.

Defending Tour champion Jan Ullrich of Germany was sixth, 5.6 seconds behind, while his Deutsche Telekom teammate and 1996 Tour champion, Bjarne Riis of Denmark, finished a dismal 23rd.

It was Boardman's third victory in five years in the Tour's prologue.

"People expected me to win," he said. "I didn't. I've had a terrible season and I've been depressed. What a relief!

"The crowd helped. The noise was incredible."

The gentle rain so common to the Emerald Isle affected the first half of the race, deterring some riders from aggressively taking the two sharpest corners early on.

But the course had dried when Boardman - who also won the pro-logues of 1994 and 1997 - rolled down the starting ramp. He never hesitated and sped down the city's broad O'Connell Street to the finish line beyond the city's landmark General Post Office.

Festina put in the strongest team performance, with three riders in the top 10, but the arrest of one of its support staff in France clouded its showing.

Willy Voet, a Belgian masseur, was arrested Thursday on the French-Belgian border in possession of more than 400 vials of steroids and the performance-en-hancing drug EPO, considered the cycling world's favored drug. It boosts the level of red-blood cells, enabling cyclists to absorb oxygen more effectively.

One of Festina's unexpectedly strong performances came from un-heralded Christophe Moreau, who led for much of the race and finished fifth at 6:17.32. He was competing while petitioning his positive test for steroid use at a race in June.

Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc resisted calls for Festina to be restricted from competing until the facts of the case could be established.

"This man may have been acting on his own without the knowledge of the team, so there is no question of penalizing them," Leblanc said.

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Festina's director, Bruno Roussel, said he knew nothing about the problem but would find out when the Tour goes to France Monday night.

In addition to Julich, who placed 17th in the 1997 Tour, the only American-sponsored team, U.S Postal Service, had riders finish 10th and 11th in the field of 189.

"I'm determined this year to win a stage, to compete for the yellow jersey," Julich said of the uniform denoting the Tour's leader and eventual winner after 22 days' competition. "I don't want to be the best American in the Tour. I want to be the best rider, period."

More than 30,000 spectators lined the route to see the first Tour de France in Ireland. Sunday's stage one race of 111.9 miles runs south from Dublin to the Wicklow Mountains and back again.

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