Thursday, July 17, 2008

Will the Tour de France be free of dope one day?

The Italian Tour de France cyclist Riccardo Ricco has tested positive for EPO, according to the French anti-doping agency. His team, Saunier-Duval, have pulled out of the race as a consequence.

Ricco, whose positive test came after the fourth stage, is the winner of two stages in this year's Tour - the sixth and the ninth - and was ninth in the general classification.

He was also the holder of both the polka-dot and white jerseys, for the race's leading climber and youth rider respectively.

Ricco, who was taken off the Saunier-Duval team bus by police this morning, becomes the third rider to test positive for a banned substance in the 2008 race, following the Spaniards Moisés Dueñas Nevado and Manuel Beltran.

"It's for the same product as the other two," said the French anti-doping agency president, Pierre Bordry. "He hasn't been notified yet but will be in the next few minutes."

"It's completely shocking," said the International Cycling Union president Pat McQuaid. "It would strike me now that someone would have advised those guys to take some form of EPO thought to be undetectable because we haven't caught guys in this fashion for a long time." 

The Italian is considered as a potential star of the sport and had finished second in this year's Giro d'Italia. The team manager of Saunier-Duval, Joxean Fernandez Matxin, had been a big fan of the 24-year-old. "Whenever he sets himself a goal he won't fail," writes Matxin on the team's website. "A charismatic guy, he'll become an idol in the future because you can't ignore him."

Under the new contract signed with the Tour organisers this year teams no longer have to quit the race after a positive, but the Saunier-Duval team have taken the decision to withdraw.

That is bad news for all of Ricco's team-mates, but particularly Juan Joes Cobo Acebo, who was eighth in the overall standings, and David De La Fuente, who was second, just 12 points behind Ricco, in the King of the Mountains standings.


See also: A dope-free Tour de France this year?

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