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Pantano announces retirement in wake of EPO positive

Colombian Pantano offers no explanation of how EPO entered his system in out-of-competition controls

Colombian rider Jarlinson Pantano claimed his innocence but confirmed his retirement Tuesday in the wake of an EPO case earlier this spring.

The 30-year-old Colombian, who was kicked off his Trek-Segafredo team in April, has been provisionally suspended since showing traces of EPO following the out-of-competition control in late February.

“I never thought I’d end my career like this,” Pantano said in a video interview with a Colombian journalist that was posted on Facebook.“I feel cheated. I am not asking anyone to forgive me because I am innocent.”

The Tour de France stage-winner said he would not want to spend money to try to defend himself against allegations that could lead to a two-year ban despite his claims of innocence.

“I’ve decided to not keep fighting against the UCI because it costs a lot of money,” Pantano said. “I don’t think it’s worth it to spend all of my family’s money for an answer they will give me in one or two years.”

Pantano’s case is the latest in a recent spike of doping cases involving EPO, the synthetic blood booster that was rampant in the peloton throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Increased controls, the introduction of the biological passport, and improved detection methods have led to less blatant abuse of the blood booster, but some say EPO and other illicit products are still being abused via “micro-dosing” that can evade testing controls.

Pantano’s high-profile case is the latest involving Latin American riders, but he is the first from a major WorldTour team. Pantano offered no defense other than saying he had been sick in the months before the control, offering no explanation of how the banned blood booster entered his body.

“EPO is injected, so I have no idea how it got into my body,” he said. “There are a lot of things that don’t make sense. I gave the positive on February 26, but I had controls on March 10 and January 21, but neither of them was positive. I have more than 60 controls with the biological passport, the levels are the same and everything equal. I always had zero-tolerance and I had a two-year contract, so I had no reason to do it.”

Pantano’s announcement came on the same day the UCI confirmed that it was suspending the Manzana Postobon team for 45 days following a pair of anti-doping violations within a year on the Colombian Professional Continental team. Team officials had already announced last month it would be closing down, but the UCI said the ban would be imposed if the team tried to reinitiate activity.

Along with Pantano’s case, the pair of cases from Manzana Postobon account for three out-of-competition controls returned by the Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation (CADF), hinting an increase of controls among Colombian cyclists when they are at home.

Pantano seemed resigned to his fate and said if he served a ban it would be difficult to return to the sport.

“Doping has always existed. If the peloton was clean, there would be no positives,” Pantano said. “There are more controls than ever and they’ve improved, but there’s always someone who will take a risk.”