Little-known rider Steve Houanard may have chosen to take EPO as a result of not having his AG2r La Mondiale contract renewed says team manager Vincent Lavenu. The 26-year-old was informed by team management at the Canadian WorldTour races, where he finished 22nd and 41st at GP Québec and GP Montéal respectively that he would not be continuing with the French outfit in 2013.
It was this news delivered in Canada and subsequent desperation to get results that may have caused Houanard to take EPO ahead of his final race of the year, the Tour of Beijing. Houanard had finished the Stage 1 in 21st-place just hours before the results of his positive test were published.
"I was with him [Houanard] in Canada and there I told him we do not keep him in the team. I had told him that the door is not 100% closed, but he knew it would be difficult to change our mind. I think this has triggered a reaction that he can no longer fool," said team manager Vincent Lavenu to L’Equipe.
The provisionally suspended rider was yet to win a professional race since his debut as a trainee with Skil-Shimano at the end of 2008 and with one WorldTour event left in 2012 it was his last chance to prove his place in the top-tier.
"When you know everything it takes to keep a team afloat, the number of people must be convinced to follow you...There is a French boy, went through our training center (Chambéry Cycling Training), it is a crazy thing and is frankly disheartening. We will apply the procedure, that is to say that Steve will be laid off as a precaution," said Lavenu.
"There are procedures to follow. We respect the labor laws in force. As a first step we put the rider aside. This is a safeguard procedure. Then he will be called to come and give explanations as every good French employee. There is no doubt that the controls are so serious and effective that I do not see an explanation," Lavenu told Sport365.
"We fight daily to convey values related to those of our partners. Run a professional cycling team, it is not easy. This requires huge investments and conviction of our partners to follow in a fierce global competition. When such mishaps happen in a team where, in addition, they are fighting to try to stay in the first division, I can tell you that everything can be questioned. The future of the team depends on it. Everything will depend on how the UCI interprets the case and how partners react. What is certain is that the balance is fragile," he said.