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Italian police express ‘interest’ in two riders, so Tour gives them the boot.

Two more riders were kicked out of the Tour de France Monday after race organizers received confirmation from Italy that the two men are under formal investigation for alleged drug infractions. Race director Jean-Marie Leblanc announced that Italian Stefano Casagranda (Seaco) and Slovenian Martin Hvastija (Alessio-Bianchi) had both been told not to start Tuesday's 160km ninth stage Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat to Guéret. Italian police are investigating charges that Casagranda bought EPO four years ago at Marostica, near Venice. Whereas authorities say they have a tape of Hvastija in his room

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Is Postal’s Padrnos next?

By Rupert Guinness in Limoges

Hvastija at this year's Tour presentation

Hvastija at this year’s Tour presentation

Photo: AFP (file photo)

Two more riders were kicked out of the Tour de France Monday after race organizers received confirmation from Italy that the two men are under formal investigation for alleged drug infractions.

Race director Jean-Marie Leblanc announced that Italian Stefano Casagranda (Seaco) and Slovenian Martin Hvastija (Alessio-Bianchi) had both been told not to start Tuesday’s 160km ninth stage Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat to Guéret.

Italian police are investigating charges that Casagranda bought EPO four years ago at Marostica, near Venice. Whereas authorities say they have a tape of Hvastija in his room during the 2001 Giro d’Italia allegedly injecting the drug Kenakort (an illegal corticoid).

Teammates of the Slovenian say he is “devastated by the news” and dispute the existence of any tape beyond an audio tape of Hvastija simply asking about the effects of the drug.

Their exclusion takes the number of individual riders who have missed the Tour – or have been forced to leave it – due to suspicions of doping to six. The Kelme team was also uninvited from the Tour after former rider Jesus Monzano made a number of explosive charges in a series of newspaper articles that appeared earlier this year in Spain.

Casagranda’s teammate Danilo Di Luca was not allowed to start the Tour at Liege on July 3 for the same reason and lost a last-minute appeal. Scot David Millar (Cofidis) was also withdrawn from his team’s Tour line-up after he confessed to using EPO. Before that, Millar’s French teammate Cedric Vasseur was excluded from the Tour for being the subject of French police inquiries.

Over the weekend, Belgian Christophe Brandt (Lotto-Domo) did not start stage seven, was sent home and suspended by his team after a urine test he underwent after stage two from Charleroi to Namur showed traces of the drug methadone.

All that, coming on top of the Tour organization’s even earlier decision to rescind the invitation to the Kelme team to be among the original field on 22 nine man team following Manzano’s doping claims, at least shows it is willing to stick by its policy.

Rapid response
The Tour organization went public with its latest decision 30 minutes after a fax from its Paris office was forwarded to race headquarters at Limoges, the base for today’s first rest day.

The fax came at 3 p.m. local time from the Guardia di Finanza in Padua, Italy, and was signed by Luigini Lambrinzi, an untitled department official in the department. The fax was in reply to a letter sent from Tour organizers on July 8 requesting confirmation of a French newspaper report about doping investigations in Italy.

The newspaper, Le Monde, referred to two separate investigations – one in Padua and another in San Remo.

While Padua investigators confirmed that Casagranda and Hvastija were “people of interest” to the investigation, the Tour organization has yet to receive confirmation from San Remo about a case allegedly involving two more Tour riders in Italy’s Stefano Zanini (Quickstep) and Czech Pavel Padrnos (U.S. Postal).

Leblanc said the Tour organization would not continue to pursue an answer from San Remo, saying it was up to the Italian investigators to reply.

“No, we won’t. We have sent a letter and have asked. If they have no answer, they have no answer. But are not police, we are race organizers,” he said.

Casagranda and Hvastija were told of their exclusion this afternoon by respective team directeur-sportifs, Giuseppe Martinello and Bruno Cenghialta, 30 minutes after the Tour organization receive the fax.

While it was reported that the Tour organization was made aware of the investigation by as far back as 2002, Leblanc yesterday could not recall receiving such notice – although he admitted that his assistant director John Lelangue had a vague recollection of hearing it.

“But if we have decided to do something about it now it is because we have a policy in place to handle these issues,” said Leblanc adding that the expulsion of Casagranda and Hvastija are in keeping with the UCI laws.

The UCI law allows them to not accept any rider suspected of doping – or involved in any drugs investigation – so long as the decision is backed by the president of the race jury.