On the morning before the prologue of the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré, UCI medical officers declared Liberty Seguros-Würth rider Isidro Nozal and Michel Scotto D'Abusco (Lampre-Cafitta) unfit to race after pre-race medical controls revealed their haematocrit levels to have exceeded the 50 percent limit.
According to a team statement from Liberty Seguros, Nozal's haematocrit was measured at 52,1 percent, well above the limit allowed. For team manager Manolo Saiz, this is now the second rider in the space of a month that has been declared unfit as a result of an excessive haematocrit; on the eve of the 2005 Giro d'Italia in Reggio Calabria, 27 year-old Portuguese rider Nuno Ribeiro was also found to have a blood haematocrit level of 52 percent, and was subsequently fired from the team without contest.
Besides the ethical code of conduct signed by all ProTour teams, each rider on Liberty Seguros has an additional clause in their contract, stating that they will be immediately dismissed after a 'positive'. The clause is designed to clarify the origin of the result with the assistance of UCI medical team, and take the appropriate disciplinary action if necessary, including termination of a rider's contract.
According to Saiz, Nozal passed the team's medical controls before travelling to France, where the 27 year-old was said to have recorded a haematocrit of 46 percent, a haemoglobin value of 15,2 percent and reticulocyte reading of 1,2 at a hospital in Oviedo on June 1. The day before the prologue at the Dauphiné, Nozal's haematocrit also read 46 percent, according to the team.
"Today [Sunday], when they [the UCI medical inspectors] woke us up in the morning at 8am to pass [medical] controls, we came with total normality, because we were not expecting this," said Saiz, although admitting that "the logical thing is that many people think badly, but we are perplexed, we do not understand."
"I am very surprised and it seems to me to be slightly incredible what is happening, because I was very sure and calm [before]," said a distraught Nozal. "I do not have any [reason] to reproach myself and I feel impotent because I cannot do anything."
Upon hearing the news, Nozal travelled from Geneva to Valencia, where he will undergo various tests under the direction of the UCI to clarify the initial findings. "It is the only solution, to do the controls and to see what happens," he said.
"I want to prove my innocence, because it is the only thing that I can do for me and for my team. Meanwhile, I give up continuing in the team. Already, I know that my sporting career is in danger, but I have to wait to demonstrate that they [the UCI medical inspectors] have been wrong. I am sure that I can demonstrate my innocence, I don't think about anything else."