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Siutsou suspended in wake of EPO positive

Belarusian rider returns adverse analytical findings in a July anti-doping test after crashing out of Giro d'Italia.

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Veteran racer Kanstantsin Siutsou was suspended by his Bahrain-Merida team Wednesday in the wake of a positive EPO test.

The UCI confirmed that the 36-year-old Belarusian tested positive for traces of the banned blood booster in an out-of-competition control on July 31. Pending the results of a B-sample control, the cycling governing body provisionally banned Siutsou.

There was no immediate reaction from Siutsou, who turned pro in 2001, but he did post a message on his Instagram account that appeared to be a screenshot of results of recent anti-doping controls, seven each in 2017 and 2018.

The news comes as Siutsou was returning from a back injury suffered when he crashed on the eve of the start of the Giro d’Italia. He crashed during a preview of the prologue course in Jerusalem and suffered a fracture of his cervical vertebra. He returned for the Belarusian national championships in late June and raced the Tour of Austria in mid-July. He did not finish the Clásica San Sebastián in early August, his final day of competition.

Bahrain-Merida released a statement Wednesday citing its “deep disappointment” and said Siutsou was suspended immediately in accordance to the team’s “zero-tolerance policy.”

“This news is terribly disappointing,” said Bahrain-Merida general manager Brent Copeland in a statement. “We are very severe with any wrong-doing with regards to our internal health code. This behavior is not accepted by our team and further procedures will be taken against the rider.”

Team officials said that Siutsou was notified in June that he would not be receiving a contract extension for 2019.

The Siutsou positive is the first EPO case involving a WorldTour rider since Portuguese rider André Cardoso (Trek-Segafredo) was provisionally suspended ahead of the 2017 Tour de France. Cardoso has challenged the veracity of his test and has been fighting a costly legal battle to try to clear his name.

Siutsou has raced with some of the top teams in the peloton, including stints with HighRoad, Team Sky and Dimension Data before joining Bahrain-Merida in 2017. He won a stage at the 2009 Giro d’Italia, won the overall of the 2008 Tour de Georgia and a stage and the overall at the Tour of Croatia in April this spring.

Siutsou also started 17 grand tours during his career, including the 2012 Tour de France-winning team with Bradley Wiggins at Team Sky (Siutsou did not finish) and again with Team Sky in 2013 as part of the winning team behind Chris Froome. He twice finished in the top-10 at the Giro, with ninth in 2011 with HighRoad and 10th in 2016 with Dimension Data.

The UCI said the control was planned and carried out by the Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation (CADF), the independent body mandated by the UCI in charge of defining and implementing the anti-doping strategy in cycling.

Siutsou can request and attend the analysis of the B-sample, the UCI said.