While Steve Houanard was jetting back to France from the Tour of Beijing early on Wednesday morning following the revelation of his positive test for EPO, his Ag2r La Mondiale teammates were still digesting the news as they set about trying to earn the points to guarantee the squad’s WorldTour status in 2013.
News of Houanard’s positive test had broken shortly after midnight Beijing time, and Ag2r-La Mondiale directeur sportif Julien Jurdie told Cyclingnews in Mentougou on Wednesday evening that he had waited until the morning to inform the riders.
"I didn’t talk to Steve Houanard straight away, as he was sharing a room with Mikael Cherel. As it was almost 1am, I preferred to let Mikael Cherel sleep," Jurdie said. "At 6am, I told Steve that it was a big, big mistake. I had a lot of questions, but I asked him to leave the hotel quickly as he had to catch a plane to Paris."
Houanard’s first instinct was to protest his innocence to his directeur sportif, and it is anticipated that the 24-year-old Frenchman will request an analysis of his B sample. Regardless of the outcome, Houanard had already been told that he was likely to be surplus to requirements in 2013.
"He said he was innocent and he hadn’t done anything: that’s the kind of declaration that people often make and I didn’t go into details with him," Jurdie said. "I told him that he’d made a big, big, big mistake and that now it was going to be very difficult for Ag2r-La Mondiale in the media. Innocent or not, well, we’ll see with the B sample.
"In any case, Steve won’t be part of the Ag2r team in 2013 and this is a problem that he will have to manage. I hope that there aren’t consequences for the Ag2r-La Mondiale team."
Houanard’s six remaining Ag2r-La Mondiale teammates were informed of his positive test when they awoke on Wednesday morning. "There was an enormous frustration and a lot of anger," Jurdie said. "I went to see the riders in their rooms this morning, and I saw some defeated faces. In particular, Romain Bardet was shocked. There was a lot of frustration, anger and incomprehension in the team."
Another source close to the Ag2r set-up described Houanard as a "fragile rider who is easily influenced. He gained extra kilos and then lost them again in recent months, but we never imagined he was doping."
For his part, Jurdie was looking to turn his focus towards trying to motivate his riders to continue the hunt for WorldTour points at the Tour of Beijing. Sylvain Georges and Rinaldo Nocentini were among the attackers during stage two, with the latter now lying 5th on general classification. Already under pressure to gain the points towards the sporting criteria necessary to retain their WorldTour status, Ag2r-La Mondiale’s standing in the ethical criteria will have been dealt a blow by Houanard’s positive test.
"The objective is to be among the top-five on GC to get the most WorldTour points we can. After that, it will be up to the UCI to decide on the licences for 2013," Jurdie said. "I hope that we can be among the top-15 teams on a sporting level that go before the commission. I also hope that over the last few years, the team has shown its ethical value."