By Hedwig Kröner and Hernan Alvarez Macias
In the morning before the last stage of the Vuelta a España, Phonak team manager John Lelangue announced that Santos Gonzalez, previously placed 8th on GC, will not be a member of the Swiss team anymore. The affair began last Wednesday, when Santos Gonzalez rode an excellent stage finishing third in La Granja de San Ildefonso in stage 17 - but on the very next morning, the rider was taken out of the race by his own team's management.
Gonzalez failed an internal test carried out within the squad, which allegedly revealed a hematocrit level higher than 47, the team's self-imposed tolerance level.
"We could very easily have said that Gonzalez had a physical problem and that he couldn't take the start in the morning," team manager John Lelangue told reporters in Spain. "But for the sake of transparence, we decided to make this information public."
Gonzalez, meanwhile, has rejected that his blood levels were too high, telling Spanish TVE on Friday: "I'm in complete disagreement with this decision. I passed a blood test yesterday, whose results were normal. I'm a professional for ten years and I never had a problem like this. My image is damaged with this affair."
Gonzalez also said that the real intention of Phonak was to terminate his contract, which lasted until 2006. "John Lelangue, Juan Fernández and the team doctor told me that I couldn't continue the race with those levels, but if I signed the cancellation of my contract for December 31, they would let me finish the Vuelta to look for another team. This sounded like blackmail to me, so I refused and gave the matter into the hands of my lawyers," he said.
The affair will certainly continue as both parties cannot seem to reach a deal in the near future.
As it turned out, the abandon of Miguel Angel Martin Perdiguero (Phonak) during stage 18 to and from Avila was also related to this affair. The Spaniard was riding in the day's breakaway when he decided to quit at kilometre 128, but not for health reasons - nor because he was thinking about the upcoming World's, as Cyclingnews interpreted. Perdiguero abandoned to protest against the fact that Phonak's team management had decided to take his teammate and friend Santos Gonzalez out of the race the same morning.