Astarloza maintains total innocence

Euskaltel-Euskadi stands by its rider

Basque Mikel Astarloza reiterated he's innocent following counter-analysis confirmation of a positive test for blood booster Erythropoietin (EPO). Astarloza, who won Tour de France stage 16, dismisses any drug use and his Euskaltel-Euskadi team supports him.

"I'm completely innocent," Astarloza told Cyclingnews today, one day after the counter-analysis confirmation. "Unfortunately, I can't prove it, and I can't explain what happened. I just know that I haven't taken anything prohibited. I'm very unhappy, as I don't know what could have possibly put me in this situation.

"I understand that it's difficult to believe that a positive cyclist is innocent. People will think: 'Why should we believe him and not the others?' – I understand. But if I'd done something wrong, I would have the courage to admit it. But I don't want to admit something that I haven't done. Even if this would get me a reduced ban of just one year."

Astarloza, 29, tested positive for EPO on June 26, but the International Cycling Union (UCI) only announced the result after the Tour de France, on July 31. He won the mountain stage to Bourg-Saint-Maurice, on July 1, ahead of France's Sandy Casar (Française des Jeux).

Euskaltel-Euskadi said yesterday that it believes Astarloza and asked several lawyers and experts to prove his innocence. It announced that it temporarily suspended him from the team.

"We will not sanction him as we are certain that he has not taken any prohibited substance. Anti-doping analysis is unreliable," said directeur sportif Gorka Gerrikagoitia yesterday.

"They have my medical records and blood values since I joined the team three years ago," said Astarloza. "If they continue to believe in me, then that also means they have all the reason to."

He knows that his quest to clean his name will not be an easy one. "Of course there have been so many doping offenses in cycling that people will not believe me. For the world, I'm just another doping case. But for me, it's about my honour, and I can't admit something I have not done."

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