Riccò's positive doping test sparks team exit
Riccardo Riccò's team, Saunier Duval of Spain, announces withdrawal from Tour de France.18 July 2008
MADRID - France's anti-doping agency announced Thursday that Italian rider Riccardo Riccò tested positive for the banned blood-boosting drug EPO when he was submitted for a surprise control after the Tour de France fourth stage.
Riccò's team, Saunier Duval of Spain, subsequently announced its withdrawal from the race in order to "do no further harm to our sponsors' image or that of the Tour de France," according to a memo issued by the team.
The failed test represents the second EPO doping blow for the Tour in two days, and the third overall after the Spanish cyclist Moisés Dueñas (Barloworld) was found guilty on Wednesday of having also doped prior to stage four, and his compatriot Manuel Beltrán (Liquigas) failed an EPO test in the first stage.
Saunier Duval is the first team to withdraw from the Tour completely.
Pietro Algeri, one of the team's sporting directors said he was dismayed at the news. "I don't have the heart to speak to Riccò, it's a catastrophe and a very hard thing to cope with. I don't know if I should give up this job, its all very incomprehensible," he said.
Although it has not been confirmed by the AFDL, sources including France's L'Equipe sports website and Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport announced that the rider's positive was for third-generation EPO, called Cera.
This version of the blood-booster is rarer, is released more slowly into the bloodstream, and was previously thought to be untraceable.
After a string of doping scandals rocked 2007's Tour, doping is now a criminal offense in France.
Dueñas, whose second analysis was confirmed as positive on Thursday leading him to plead guilty of the offence in a French court, could face up to five years in jail for the possession of illegal drugs found in his hotel room.
Now Riccò's failed test has delivered the biggest blow to the Tour so far. The 24-year-old team leader at Saunier, until now considered one of cycling's great promises, won two Tour mountain stages and finished second in the Giro d'Italia in June.
In police custody as of Thursday, Riccò now also finds his future in the hands of the French law authorities.
[El Pais / Kelly Ramundo / Expatica]