Cycling star Ricco jailed after testing positive for drug

July 18th, 2008 - 1:51 pm ICT by IANS  

Paris/Narbonne, July 18 (DPA) Italian cycling star Riccardo Ricco was jailed Thursday after being kicked out of the Tour de France for testing positive for the blood-booster EPO, the online edition of the daily L’Equipe reported. Police in the city of Pirepoix held the 24-year-old Saunier Duval rider for questioning after searching his hotel room. No information was provided about whether the search found any banned substances.

Police also seized the Saunier Duval team bus after the French anti-doping agency AFLD said that tests taken at the conclusion of the Tour’s fourth stage, July 8, had detected the presence of CERA (Continuous Erythropietin Receptor Activator) in Ricco’s body.

CERA is a so-called third-generation version of EPO - a protein hormone produced by the kidney which stimulates the production of red blood cells - with a longer half-life and previously thought to be virtually undetectable.

Upon hearing the news, Saunier Duval immediately dropped out of the Tour de France.

“We are ceasing our sports activities,” team manager Pietro Algeri said. “This was not just any rider. We built our team and our image around him.”

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge said Thursday that he was disappointed to hear the Tour de France was yet again being overshadowed by the spectre of doping.

“It’s sad, I had hoped that the new generation would bring a new attitude,” Rogge said in an interview with Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA) in Lausanne.

The 24-year-old Ricco was the third rider in this year’s Tour to be tossed out of the race because of EPO. Spaniard Moises Duenas Wednesday was dropped from the race and suspended by his Barloworld team, while fellow Spaniard Manuel Beltran left the Tour last week after testing positive.

Ricco had won two stages in this year’s Tour, and was ranked ninth in the standings, 2 minutes 29 seconds behind the leader, Cadel Evans of Australia. He was also leading the standings in the King of the Mountains competition.

Teammate Juan Jose Cobo, who also left the race, was eighth, 2 minutes 10 seconds behind Evans.

Evans told French television that he felt “very, very sad for the sport, but this shows that the tests work”.

Former race leader Kim Kirchen of Luxembourg told Eurosport: “It is no surprise to me that it was Ricco.”

Ricco, who stunned the cycling world by finishing second in this year’s Giro d’Italia, had been the target of at least five doping tests since the Tour began July 5, and had complained publicly about it.

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