French police took Spaniard Manuel Beltrán into custody for questioning on Friday night following news that he had tested positive for the performance enhancing drug EPO. The 37-year-old Beltrán was taken away from the Hotel des Voyageurs, where he and the Liquigas team were staying. Police also searched Beltrán's hotel room.
"The police have taken Manuel away for questioning," a Liquigas spokesman told the BBC. "He was not sharing the room with any other team-mates. It was only his room that was searched."
Beltrán, a former mountain domestique for Lance Armstrong's US Postal and Discovery Channel teams, was immediately removed from the race by his team, a move which may have salvaged Liquigas' chances at continuing in the Tour de France.
While reports initially stated that should Beltrán's B sample come back positive, the team would be forced to withdraw from the race, the German television station ZDF received confirmation from the Amaury Sport Organistion (ASO) that the team could remain in the race.
The station also reported that the team will escape the 100,000 euro penalty which was part of the ASO's anti-doping contract signed by all teams prior to the Tour, because they removed Beltrán immediately after the positive A-sample.
Liquigas manager Roberto Amadio said that his rider has said that he has done nothing wrong, and has been suspended until the counter-analysis he has requested can be performed. But, he said, if it is also positive, he will be fired.
The news of the doping positive struck a blow to the Tour de France, which was hoping to clean up its image after multiple doping scandals in the 2007 event. During last year's Tour, there were no fewer than five positives announced during the Tour or shortly after, and the race leader, Michael Rasmussen (then of Rabobank) was removed from the race after it was revealed he had falsified his pre-Tour anti-doping whereabouts declarations.
The doping scandals led to the withdrawal of the Astana team, whose leader Alexander Vinokourov had tested positive for blood transfusion, as well as the Cofidis team of Cristian Moreni, who tested positive for testosterone.
This year's Tour was touted as a "cleaner" race after the UCI began its biological passport programme, and several teams such as Team CSC-Saxo Bank, Team Columbia and Garmin-Chipotle instituted the use of blood profiling to detect the effects of doping. The method is thought to be more effective than traditional doping controls at detecting the use of performance enhancing drugs.
The ASO in its statement declared the positive test result of Beltrán as evidence that the controls are working. "The determination in the fight against doping is total, and ... the noose is tightening on the cheaters," it said.