The Euskaltel-Euskadi team have shown qualified support for Mikel Astarloza after it was confirmed at the end of last week that the 30-year-old Spanish rider has been banned for two years having tested positive for EPO. A statement posted on the Euskadi Foundation’s website suggested that the evidence against 2009 Tour de France stage-winner Astarloza was not convincing.
In it the team stated: "Following the confirmation by the Spanish cycling federation of the positive test by the cyclist Mikel Astarloza, the team wants to make clear that it will abide by the UCI’s [International Cycling Union] regulations relating to these cases.
"After a resolution that was not definitive, the cyclist has got a long road ahead of him in preparing his defence, and we hope that the rider can demonstrate his innocence. Once his suspension is completed on June 26, 2011, we hope that the rider can return to competition."
Euskaltel have steadfastly backed Astarloza since the first reports of his positive test emerged in the immediate wake of the 2009 Tour de France, where he won the 16th stage. His positive test for EPO took place on June 26 last year, just 25 days before that Tour stage win.
Astarloza has suggested that he will take his case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. In a statement of his own, he said: "I keep reaffirming my innocence and therefore I strongly disagree with the penalty imposed, and will appeal this sanction to the proper authorities. I hope that my innocence will finally be recognised and I have the hope of returning to racing as soon as possible."