AURILLAC // The Tour de France heads for the Pyrenees today without Manuel Beltran after the Spanish rider was kicked out for failing a drug test. The Liquigas rider, who had been 26th overall, was withdrawn by his team yesterday after testing positive for erythropoietin (EPO) and will not start the 172.5-km eighth stage from Figeac to Toulouse. Beltran was arrested by French police after it was announced he had tested positive for the banned substance.
"Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) has contacted Liquigas to inform them that their rider Manuel Beltran has tested positive," an executive for the Tour organisers said. Beltran's positive test, which is the first in this year's Tour, showed traces of the blood-boosting drug erythropoietin (EPO), the French Anti-Doping Agency (AFLD) said. He was 26th in the overall standings after yesterday's seventh stage from Brioude to Aurillac.
"Manuel Beltran has been taken for questioning," said a spokesman for the Aurillac gendarmerie, who had earlier raided the Liquigas accommodation at the Hotel des Voyageurs. Liquigas team manager Roberto Amadio told ASO that Beltran, 37, would be withdrawn from the race although having imposed that sanction the Italian team will carry on. "We are shocked and ready to take all the most severe measures if the 'B' sample comes back positive," Amadio was quoted as saying in a Liquigas statement. It added that Liquigas would sack Beltran from the team with immediate effect if the 'B' sample is returned positive.
Tour organisers, while disappointed with the day's events, stressed that the right system is in place to catch drug users. "The noose is tightening on the cheats," ASO said in a statement. "The organisation appreciates the efficiency of the system set up by the AFLD." The race has been put under the jurisdiction of the French federation, with the AFLD responsible for dope tests. "When you're in a war, you have to accept casualties," the Garmin-Chipotle manager Jonathan Vaughters, who founded his team on a strong antidoping platform, said.
"It could be two, three or four [positive tests], it just shows that targeted testing is working. It's evidence that the system is working. "If you put the antidoping fight back to where it was five years ago, this would not happen." Last year's Tour was marred by doping scandals, with Kazakh Alexander Vinokourov testing positive for blood doping. His Astana team were urged by organisers to leave the race while the Danish rider Michael Rasmussen was kicked out of his Rabobank team for lying about his training whereabouts.
"It is a damaging blow," the International Cycling Union (UCI) president Pat McQuaid said. "Once again, it proves that individuals are ready to take stupid risks. "I hope there won't be other positive tests in the next two weeks [of the Tour]," he added. 'Txiki' Beltran has three Tour stage wins to his name, all of them team time trials with Lance Armstrong's US Postal and Discovery Channel teams in 2003, 2004 and 2005.
He also won the Tour of Catalunya in 1999. Liquigas said in April they had hired the Italian Ivan Basso on a two-year contract. Basso is serving a two-year suspension after being implicated in the Operation Puerto blood doping scandal in Spain and cannot race until October. *Reuters