By Tim Maloney, European Editor
Only 197 riders will take the Giro d'Italia start Saturday in Reggio Calabria, as 27 year-old Portuguese rider Nuno Ribeiro was found to have a blood haematocrit level of 52% in controls performed Thursday morning in Italy by UCI medical inspectors. In a statement, the Liberty Seguros team said it was "deeply sorry" about Ribeiro's failed control, which must be considered a major embarrassment for Liberty team boss Manolo Saiz, who until recently was head of the professional teams association and is a major force behind the implementation of the ProTour.
"Within the agreements accepted by all the ProTour teams, [Liberty] puts the rider at the disposition of the highest cycling authority so that they can do all the necessary controls, including antidoping. Last Tuesday, the majority of riders (except for Scarponi, Caruso and Baranowski) that were to ride the Giro met in Madrid, where a final control was carried out, including an analysis with a centrifuge. Ribeiro returned values of between 47 and 48 in three tests, something he explained by saying that he had been training at altitude, information that the management of the team knew. In such circumstances, the blood values of the rider were considered to be normal by the doctors and no major importance was attached to them.
"Yesterday, new controls were done in Reggio Calabria and he gave normal values (48.5 per cent). After the days of travelling and very little training volume, these were considered to be logical values to start the Giro. After doing the UCI control 7:45 a.m., the team doctors knew that Nuno Ribeiro had given a haematocrit two points over the established limit. The team, in spite of the apparent discrepancy of the analyses, does not question the result offered by the experts of the UCI, who deserve the maximum credibility.
"For this reason the team puts Nuno Ribeiro at the disposal of the UCI from this moment on, and he will travel to Lausanne in order to do the tests that are considered to necessary, as well as the pertinent antidoping controls, to establish the origin of this anomalous result."
"Besides the ethical code signed by the teams of the ProTour, all the riders of the Liberty Seguros-Würth team have in their contract a clause by which they will be immediately dismissed after a 'positive'. In this case it is a question of a 'health control', for which the team hopes that the experts of the UCI, besides the declaration of 'inaptitude' for fifteen days, clarify the origin of this result and will take the disciplinary measurements that are appropriate, included among which can be the immediate cessation of the rider's contract. This evening, the UCI will submit him to the first antidoping control."
Ribeiro is new to Liberty Seguros this year, as the sixth year pro from Rebordoza, Portugal is most noted for his 2003 win in the Volta a Portugal while riding for La Pecol.