Tour chief casts suspicious eye at Saunier Duval
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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Tour chief casts suspicious eye at Saunier Duval

by Agence France-Presse at 4:54 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France, Doping
Tour de France chief Christian Prudhomme left the future of Saunier Duval in the balance after declaring he doubted the integrity of the cycling team's manager.

The Spanish outfit volunteered to quit the race prior to the 12th stage following news that their star climber Riccardo Ricco had tested positive for EPO (erythropoietin).

Prudhomme welcomed the fact that yet another cheat had been snared by a new battery of anti-doping measures following the exit of Spaniards Manuel Beltran (Liquigas) and Moises Duenas (Barloworld) - both of whom also tested positive for EPO.

However the Frenchman, without mentioning the name of Saunier Duval's Swiss manager Mauro Gianetti, said he had doubts over his reputation. "After speaking to the management of Saunier Duval this morning they decided to leave on their own accord. "But in general, I certainly don't feel that their manager is a model of virtue." He added: "There's two ways to look at how they left the race. One is to say they are responsible (for Ricco's positive test), but that would make it appear like an admission (of guilt). "The future will reveal more to us, hopefully the near future."

Prudhomme confirmed he had held talks with Saunier Duval earlier in the race after reports claimed that readings from a blood sample provided by Ricco had alerted anti-doping controllers to possible doping. "Yes, we spoke with them," added Prudhomme, who admitted to having suspicions of the team following Leonardo Piepoli's 10th stage win atop the Hautacam climb, when teammate Juan Jose Cobo came second. "I was a little suspicious when those two (Piepoli and Cobo) gave us that crushing display of superiority on the Hautacam."

Prudhomme would not say whether Saunier Duval would be automatically left off the invite list for next year's race, but said his opinion of the team's manager would unlikely change. "I don't think my opinion on the person in question will change in three months, six months, two years or even five years," added Prudhomme. "But for the team's sponsor, it's a catastrophe. They are the first ones to be cheated."

Ricco's positive test is the second in two years for the team, who were stunned by Iban Mayo's positive test for EPO at last year's Tour. Although his case has yet to be settled Mayo was cleared by the Spanish federation. It was later claimed by the Ghent laboratory handling his B sample that the sample was unusable. Piepoli also escaped a ban following a positive test for salbutamol at last year's Giro d'Italia, where he won a stage and helped Ricco and former teammate Gilberto Simoni to stage wins.

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