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Astarloza declares innocence of EPO charges

Mikel Astarloza – the Basque climber who facing allegations that he took the banned blood booster EPO – says he never doped ahead of the 2009 Tour de France. Astarloza, winner of stage 16 and 11th overall in the this year’s Tour, is facing a possible two-year ban after urine samples taken in an out-of-competition control June 26, but strongly declared his innocence in an emotional press conference Tuesday.

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‘I know that I didn’t take anything prohibited’

By Andrew Hood

Mikel Astarloza – the Basque climber who facing allegations that he took the banned blood booster EPO – says he never doped ahead of the 2009 Tour de France.

Astarloza, winner of stage 16 and 11th overall in the this year’s Tour, is facing a possible two-year ban after urine samples taken in an out-of-competition control June 26, but strongly declared his innocence in an emotional press conference Tuesday.

“I know that I didn’t take anything prohibited and I say it roundly: I didn’t take anything banned,” Astarloza said. “I am innocent. They are accusing me of a crime I didn’t do.”

On Friday, Astarloza was provisionally banned after the UCI announced the Euskaltel-Euskadi rider tested positive for EPO.

Astarloza returned an “adverse analytical finding” for recombinant erythropoietin in a urine sample collected in an out-of-competition control on June 26.

The lab report was delivered Thursday to the UCI by the accredited laboratory in Madrid, which conducted the controls.

Speaking before the media Tuesday without taking questions, Astarloza said he will fight to try to prove his innocence but admitted he’s “lost faith in the system.”

Flanked by fellow professionals Igor Antón and Haimar Zubeldia, members of his family and nearly 100 fans in a demonstration of solidarity, Astarloza also said there’s reason to doubt the authenticity of the sample, but refused to elaborate.

Astarloza also said he’s always been available for doping controls and said it would be professional “suicide” to take banned substances.

“If I had taken some doping products, I could have circumvented the control by giving the wrong address,” Astarloza said. “With the establishment of the biological passport, to dope yourself is crazy, sporting suicide.”

Astarloza said he has asked the second “B” sample be reviewed and vows to fight to try to clear his name.

Officials from his Euskaltel-Euskadi team are supporting Astarloza and said they believe he is innocent.