Taken into police custody
Italian rider Riccardo Riccò of Saunier Duval has tested positive for blood booster Erythropoietin (EPO), French sports daily L'Equipe reported on its website on Thursday. According to the paper's Damien Ressiot, one of the climber's urine samples collected by the French Anti-Doping Agency AFLD showed traces of a third generation EPO called CERA (Continuous Erythropoietin Receptor Activator).
The team's buses and cars were reportedly stopped by gendarmes and searched, and the police were seen taking bags of items away.
The Saunier Duval team has voluntarily withdrawn itself from the Tour de France, and said it would not compete in any races until further notice. Directeur sportif Joxean Fernandez Matxin said he was as surprised as anybody. "We only found out ten minutes ago. The entire team will stop racing, not only in the Tour de France. We suspend the activities of the team until we understand what has happened."
Riccò, who won two stages in the Tour de France (the sixth and ninth), was ninth on general classification before the news broke on Thursday morning. The Italian's impressive performances have in the past been explained by his naturally high hematocrit level.
The Italian from Spanish team Saunier Duval was part of a targeted group of riders. Since the start of the race in Brest, the AFLD performed numerous anti-doping tests on him, at least four according to L'Equipe.
At the start of stage 12 from Lavelanet to Narbonne, Riccò was taken from his team bus into a team car, which took him to the police station. Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown confirmed that the Italian was taken into police custody for questioning.
Fernandez described the final moments before Riccò was driven off. "He sat in the team bus and was not able to say anything. We didn't want to make a scene with the police. They let us drive him away in the team car. A police officer accompanied him in the car."
In initial reactions riders and directeurs sportifs weighed in. George Hincapie of Team Columbia said, "We can look at the positive side and that we're catching riders that cheat. The sport is doing what it can and it's [putting out] more effort than any other sport out there.
"We have to look to the future and I think we're doing everything we can to clean up our sport."
Hincapie's sports director, Rolf Aldag, was not too happy. "This is really disappointing. There have been a lot of rumours about him in the last few days but this a step back as he's a big fish and he's from a different generation. It was supposed to be a young and new breed but they need to know that they risk more than their careers. They risk the whole sport of cycling. He's caused a lot of damage to the Tour."
David Millar (Garmin Chipotle - H30), who used to ride for Saunier Duval for two seasons, wanted to know where the EPO was coming from and how Riccò got through the controls.
The Scot didn't think this was the last case of a positive. "We will catch more this year, next year and the year after." Cyclingnews will have more on Millar's reaction in the next news edition.
Alberto Volpi, the directeur sportif of Barloworld, couldn't quite understand what was going in Riccò's head. "I didn't think someone would do that after the events that happened before. For me personally, it is catastrophic. It is incomprehensible. After the Barloworld affair, I didn't think someone would do something like that."
Barloworld made the headlines with Moisés Dueñas' positive test case.