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Oka banned for doping positive as Delko in more financial trouble

Atsushi Oka racing in the U23 World Championships for Japan in 2017
Atsushi Oka racing in the U23 World Championships for Japan in 2017 (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Japanese rider Atsushi Oka, 25, has been suspended for four months by the UCI for an anti-doping control positive for acetazolamide, a banned diuretic, making more trouble for the French ProTeam Delko, who are in financial straits again less than half a year after the UCI initiated bank guarantee proceedings after riders complained of missed payments.

Acetazolamide, a drug used to treat altitude sickness, is banned under the World Anti-Doping Agency code that prohibits the use of diuretics and masking agents but is a specified substance and subject to threshold limits. The UCI rules allow for more flexibility in the length of sanctions for positives of specified substances, compared with anti-doping rule violations for non-specified substances like anabolic steroids.

Oka tested positive for the substance on December 13, 2020 and received a four-month ban. He will be eligible to compete on May 24, 2021. He made a statement on Thursday, saying that the control took place four days after he underwent eye surgery, where acetazolamide was part of the treatment to control intraocular pressure. Oka said the UCI 'admitted that it was unintentional' and he voluntarily accepted the four-month ban.

Oka was one of the riders to complain that the team was attempting to force them off midway through a two-year contract. He and José Gonçalves reportedly were told by team manager Philippe Lannes that they had no place on the 2021 squad, although Lannes denied this. Both riders are listed by the UCI as being registered with the team for 2021.

The ban adds to the troubles for Delko, which, according to La Provence, is losing several staff members and cutting its race programme because of budget shortfalls. Sports Director Gorka Guerricagoitia will depart as of May 1, with José Azevedo, three trainers and a nutritionist also leaving.

"It's a personal decision," Guerricagoitia said to La Provence. "The team is not well at the economic level, Philippe (Lannes, the manager) has gathered all the staff to explain the situation. And without me, he will save a lot of money. I don't have an offer from another team, I'm out of work, period. I'm really the biggest loser in the story."

The team last raced at the Tour of Turkey where José Manuel Díaz won the queen stage and the overall classification.

The money woes echo the team's 2020 season where Oka sent a complaint to the UCI that said he was evicted from the team’s house in France with little notice and threatened that if he stayed on the team in 2021, as he was contracted to do, the team would not support him and only race him four days in the year.

Lannes denied that the Japanese riders on the team were being punished over sponsor Nippo's move to the WorldTeam EF Education. He claimed that Oka was not at the level to ride the team's calendar, and said the riders were housed for free until Nippo withdrew.