By Brecht Decaluwé in Toulouse
Frederik Willems, a Belgian rider on the Italian Liquigas team, was disappointed at the news of fellow Liquigas racer Manuel Beltrán's initial positive test for EPO, but is awaiting the counter-analysis of Beltrán's "B" sample taken after the first stage of the Tour de France before drawing any conclusions.
"Last year I was sharing the room with Beltrán during the Tour de France," said Willems. "I've never noticed anything. In the race he was always very active and keen to race. Outside the race, he was a calm guy. He's a bit tight-lipped, but he would certainly speak out when there were team discussions," Willems said of "Triki" Beltrán. After being questioned by French police, the Spanish racer took a flight back to his home country Saturday morning.
Willems described what happened Friday evening when the police entered the team's hotel. "I was receiving a massage when suddenly the police were everywhere. They left us alone, and we didn't have any problems; clearly, they only came for Beltrán," Willems said. "Eventually he was taken away while we were having dinner, but this morning I ran into him in the corridor. He talked to me, but I didn't talk back.
"Beltrán told me that he would await the results of the analysis of the B-sample, and he assured me that the team had nothing to do with it. He also said that he would have regrets if he "B" sample test results ended up confirming his positive A-sample," Willems said.
"Nobody expected this [test result] because we have internal team controls and unannounced controls at home about every month. I don't think the Beltrán case has anything to do with the team, and I would be sorry if the team were attacked because Beltrán possibly did something wrong. I don't see a reason why we should go home," Willems said.
"We're here to do our best in the Tour de France," said Willems. "I had a cold during the first couple of days, and it's not easy - especially in the Tour de France - to get a good result, or do something extreme. Actually, I was happy to make it to the finish each day. Recently I started to feel a little better and then this happens. That's not really positive."
During stage eight on Saturday the Liquigas team tried to set up their sprinter Francesco Chicchi, but the Italian finished 15th. "It was good to be out racing, but, of course, you think about it. We tried to act in a positive way. We've got the morale to race, since that's what we're here for. Just because of the Beltrán case, we don't have to ride depressed."