By Brecht Decaluwé in Narbonne, France
The directors of the Tour de France came out in harsh criticism of the Saunier Duval-Scott rider Riccardo Riccò and his team manager Mauro Gianetti after it was announced Thursday that Riccó failed a doping control taken after the stage four time trial in Cholet. However, the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) leaders insisted that the Tour's third failed doping test is a sign that the sport is becoming cleaner.
The start of the Tour's twelfth stage in Lavenalet was plunged into chaos when the police arrived to escort a devastated Riccò, winner of stage six and nine, away from the race and into custody following news that he had tested positive for EPO. Riccò had to endure the booing of the crowds while being led away. Public opinion on the rider, who idolized the late Marco Pantani, canted towards disbelief after his remarkable performances in the Giro d'Italia and the Tour's ninth stage.
The Saunier Duval team subsequently decided to leave the Tour de France and suspend itself from further competition until the situation could be assessed. Some riders had to return to the team bus, since they were already lined up at the start despite the departure of their leader Riccò.
At a press conference near the stage finish in Narbonne, ASO's president Patrice Clerc and Tour director Christian Prudhomme confirmed they had received notification from the French Anti-doping Agency AFLD of the test result. Both directors expressed satisfaction with the anti-doping work of the AFLD, while Prudhomme also cast doubts over the performances from Leonardo Piepoli and Juan Jose Cobo on Hautacam, and questioned the credibility of Saunier Duval team manager Mauro Gianetti.
"It's a rough day for cycling. We continue to deplore the stupidity, and there is no other word, which is to defy the rules that have been established," said Clerc. "But I also believe that it is not surprising that we have caught them."