Igor Astarloa – the former world champion who has not raced since 2009 – is the latest victim in the UCI’s controversial biological passport program.
Astarloa, who won the world title in 2003 and retired in 2009 after not finding a team interested in signing him, was formally banned for two years and fined €35,000, the UCI said on Wednesday.
“The International Cycling Union (UCI) announces that following its request for proceedings against the Spanish rider Igor Astarloa Askasibar for a breach of the Anti-Doping Rules on the basis of his biological passport,” the UCI said in a statement released Wednesday, “the Disciplinary Commission of the Spanish Cycling Federation (RFEC) has decided to sanction the rider by a two-year suspension from 26 November 2010 and €35.000 fine.”
Astarloa, now 34, retired in 2009 after he was among five riders named in the first wave of sanctions based on the biological passport testing program, introduced the year before in 2008. Others singled out were fellow Spaniards Ruben Lobato and Ricardo Serrano as well as Italians Pietro Caucchioli and Francesco De Bonis.
Astarloa was then riding with the modest Amica Chips team, which later closed due to financial problems. Unable to find a new contract, Astarloa retired in 2009 without being formally sanctioned and received a hero’s farewell earlier this year in his hometown of Ermua.
The Basque rider seemed to live up to the black legend that the rainbow jersey is cursed. He joined Cofidis in 2004, but the team struggled with doping scandals involving David Millar and others, and he broke his contract to join Lampre.
He joined the upstart Barloworld team for two seasons, marking his final pro victory with Milan-Torino in 2006, before rejoining the ProTour level with Milram in 2007. The team soon fired him after he revealed irregular levels in internal blood-testing controls during the 2008 Giro. Astarloa sued the team and reached a settlement before joining Amica Chips in 2009.
There was no immediate reaction from Astarloa, who is living in his hometown of Ermua and is occasionally spotted at cycling events in Spain.
The biological passport has come under fire from some quarters who believe it should be used as a tool to fight doping by monitoring riders’ blood levels, but should not be used as the lone factor to impose racing bans.
In October, Franco Pellizotti was cleared by Italian authorities after the UCI recommended a two-year ban following irregular controls of biological markers by the Italian rider.
Other riders, however, have been suspended based on the biological passport, including Italians Caucchioli and De Bonis.