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Belgian cyclists contest doping charges in court

KORTRIJK, Belgium -- Former world champion Johan Museeuw and six other Belgian cyclists won't find out until early next year whether they will stand trial on drug charges.

Museeuw, widely recognized as the top one-day cyclist of the past decade, and the others are accused of possessing the endurance-boosting drugs EPO and Aranesp.

Museeuw and the others have denied the charges. The 39-year-old Museeuw, who won the world road championship in 1996, says he has
never failed a doping test.

A judicial hearing into the case opened Tuesday at a local
court, with defense lawyers and prosecutors submitting written
arguments. A judge set the next session for Dec. 6.

"From then on it will likely take several more weeks for a
decision," said prosecution spokesman Tom Janssen, who expects a
final ruling in the new year.

A veterinarian, a masseur and two couriers also have been
charged in the scandal, which broke in 2003. The veterinarian, Jose
Landuyt, is accused of providing Museeuw with the drugs.

Landuyt's lawyer will argue that that a fair trial is no longer
possible because of the many leaks in the national media.

"Never before in an investigation in Belgium was the secrecy of
the inquiry disregarded to such an extent," said defense lawyer
Jef Vermassen. "The damage to the reputation of this man and to
certain riders is incredible."

The prosecution said it has extensive documentation of mobile
phone text messages between Museeuw and Landuyt. The allegations
center on drug possession during the summer of 2003.

Museeuw, who retired last year, was banned for two years by the
Belgian cycling federation for his alleged involvement in the
scandal.

Last year, Belgian cyclist Frank Vandenbroucke was sentenced to
200 hours of community service after police found illegal
performance-enhancing substances during a raid on his home in 2002.