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Tour de France

Police take Beltran for questioning following positive test

French police have taken Spaniard Manuel Beltran away for questioning in the wake of the first doping scandal to emerge at this year's Tour de France. Beltran, best known for helping Lance Armstrong to the last three of his seven Tour de France wins, tested positive for the blood booster erythropoietin (EPO) on the Tour's opening stage, according to top anti-doping officials on Friday.

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Doping officials confirm A sample positive for EPO

By Agence France Presse

Liquigas manager Roberto Amadio answers journalists' questions after Manuel Beltran was taken away by French police.

Liquigas manager Roberto Amadio answers journalists’ questions after Manuel Beltran was taken away by French police.

Photo: AFP

French police have taken Spaniard Manuel Beltran away for questioning in the wake of the first doping scandal to emerge at this year’s Tour de France.

Beltran, best known for helping Lance Armstrong to the last three of his seven Tour de France wins, tested positive for the blood booster erythropoietin (EPO) on the Tour’s opening stage, according to top anti-doping officials on Friday.

Police led Beltran away, his head covered, after they had searched his hotel room. His Liquigas team has suspended him while awaiting the result of a counter-analysis, which could lead to his sacking.

“The police have taken Manuel away for questioning,” a team spokesman told AFP. “He was not sharing the room with any other teammates. It was only his room that was searched.”

French police descended on the team’s hotel Friday evening after anti-doping officials confirmed that Beltran tested positive for EPO following stage 1 last Saturday.

Beltran, who finished 25th on the day, was one of several riders randomly chosen to submit urine samples following the stage. An unnamed anti-doping official at the Tour confirmed the result of the test to AFP, and his team has removed him from the race while insisting that his is an isolated case.

The team is likely to be allowed to remain in the race if its managers convince Tour organizers of that.

“Our first decision is to suspend Manuel,” said team manager Roberto Amadio. “He has told us he has done nothing wrong and he wants to have a counter-analysis done, so until then all we can do is to suspend him.

Beltran's positive A sample sends a bad message about Tour organizers' hopes to clean up the race.

Beltran’s positive A sample sends a bad message about Tour organizers’ hopes to clean up the race.

Photo: AFP (file photo)

“But if that also tests positive, his contract with the team will be terminated.”

Amadio added: “Our first reaction to this news is one of surprise. For us it’s a very bad situation, for the whole team, including the riders who must start the race tomorrow.

“We have an active anti-doping program in place, so for us if this result is confirmed it is an isolated case.”

Last year the entire Cofidis team left the race when Cristian Moreni tested positive for testosterone. The French outfit left willingly despite Moreni admitting he had acted alone.

As the Tour de France is being held outside the auspices of the UCI this year, the French Anti-Doping Agency (AFLD) is carrying out all the blood and urine controls.

The AFLD took blood samples from the entire 180-strong peloton at the start of the race. These samples have been analyzed in Lausanne, and also sent to the UCI to form part of their database of profiles for the ‘biological passport’ program.

Beltran, now 37, began his career with the Mapei team in 1995, but came to wider attention when he joined the U.S. Postal team in 2003. He was at Armstrong’s side during three of his successful Tour campaigns, in 2003, 2004 and 2005. In that last season, both men were named by L’Equipe as being among several riders whose samples from the 1999 Tour showed signs of EPO in a now-infamous retesting of six-year-old samples.

Beltran joined the Liquigas team last season, finishing 18th overall in the Tour last year. As of Friday, Beltran was in 26th place in the overall standings, after Friday’s stage, 3:20 behind the race leader.

Top finishers are tested along with random riders following each stage.

Top finishers are tested along with random riders following each stage.

Photo: Agence France Presse

Race organizers welcomed “the effectiveness of the arrangements put in place by the AFLD,” while expressing regret that some “irresponsible riders have still not understood that . . . the vise is closing around them. “

The news of Beltran’s positive test is the first of this year’s race.

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