Basque squad Euskaltel-Euskadi plans to welcome back Mikel Astarloza to the team when his racing ban for EPO ends later this summer.
The Spanish daily El Correo reported that team manager Igor González de Galdeano has made room on the team for the rider who tested positive for EPO ahead of the 2009 Tour de France, where he won a mountain stage that was later annulled in the wake of his doping case.
Several crashes and injuries among the ranks of the Euskaltel have opened space for Astarloza, whose ban ends in late June.
“We’ve had problems with crashes and injuries. Mikel is a person much-loved in Guipúzcoa and also among the Basque fans. And he’s a good rider. Because of all that, we are now planning for him to return to the team,” González de Galdeano told El Correo. “Mikel Astarloza was important for us in the past and he will be once again in the future.”
Astarloza tested positive for recombinant erythropiotin (EPO) just days before the start of the 2009 Tour, but the test result was not revealed until after he had already won a stage in the Alps and finished 12th overall at the Tour.
Despite insisting upon his innocence, saying it would “career suicide” to use EPO, Astarloza was banned for two years by the Spanish cycling federation.
Astarloza’s doping case prompted a crisis within Euskaltel-Euskadi after sponsors threatened to quit the team. To assure sponsors, the team promised stricter anti-doping measures and introduced independent monitoring of its riders to discourage cheating within the Basque-backed team.
González de Galdeano said there’s nothing stopping Astarloza from returning to competition.
“We have to see when he can return,” González de Galdeano said. “There’s nothing stopping him from coming back. The penalties are there to be served, and just like anyone who goes to jail, they have a right to reintegrate.”