France’s top cycling team, Cofidis, will not be entering any more races for the foreseeable future, beginning with Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix classic, the third race in the 10-leg World Cup.
Cofidis is battling a series of doping allegations, and press reports in Friday’s newspapers only served to further put the team in the mire.
Today, the team’s sponsor, credit company Cofidis, issued a statement that said in part: “In the face of the seriousness of recent allegations, the Cofidis company has decided to take some time out to reflect on the current situation. As a consequence, as of today and for a period that we deem necessary, Cofidis will not be presenting any teams at races in the future.”
Hein Verbruggen, president of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) praised the move by Cofidis.
“I respect this decision,” he said. “I think Cofidis are showing they are serious in getting the business resolved.”
The decision means that world champion Igor Astarloa of Spain, who joined the team from Saeco in the off-season, will be prevented from racing, as will Britain’s reigning world time trial champion, David Millar, who continues to reject the charges that there has been organized doping within his team.
Cofidis has wrestled with allegations of doping since January, when a number of riders and ex-riders were alleged to have been using and distributing banned substances, such as EPO (erythropoietin), after police had tapped their telephone lines during a nine-month period.
Since then the team has sacked a number of riders and their Polish physiotherapist, and suspended two other riders, Mederic Clain and Cedric Vasseur.
One of those sacked, former Olympic bronze medalist Philippe Gaumont, admitted using drugs during a 10-year period. His testimony to the investigating magistrate also claimed that Millar was involved in doping, and that team managers and doctors knew all about it.
Cofidis on Friday responded by flatly denying the allegations and launching a lawsuit against the French sporting newspaper L’Equipe, which on Friday published accounts of Gaumont’s testimony to the magistrate over two broadsheet pages.
Cofidis says that the leaks of extracts from the testimony mean that “any presumption of innocence until proven guilty has now been lost.”
The future for Cofidis, France’s top-ranked team, now looks uncertain. The cycling-mad president of Cofidis, Francois Migraine, has recently suggested he would pull the team out if any more revelations appeared.
It now appears that Cofidis’s appearance at this year’s Tour de France, a race for which they automatically qualify, is now also under threat.
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