Austria's Bernhard Kohl, the best climber at this year's Tour de France and third overall, has tested positive for third-generation drug EPO CERA, France's national anti-doping agency (AFLD) said on Monday.
Kohl is the fourth rider to have been found positive for this drug by the AFLD, which has since July pioneered a new blood test for EPO CERA and is currently retroactively testing blood samples of riders during the 2008 race.
Italians Riccardo Riccò and Leonardo Piepoli, plus Germany's Stefan Schumacher, were the previous riders to have tested postive for CERA (Continuous Erythropoiesis Receptor Activator).
An AFLD statement on Monday said: "The AFLD confirms that it's laboratory at Chatenay-Malabry has found two abnormal samples showing the presence of EPO
Cera in blood tests done on July 3 and 15, before and during the Tour de France, on Austrian cyclist Bernard Kohl.
"The official notification to the athlete was done through the Austrian Anti-doping Agency (NADA Austria). This means disciplinary proceedings can be taken against the athlete by the French and Austrian national disciplinary authorities, as the 2008 Tour de France was not included in the International Cycling Union (UCI - world cycling's governing body) calendar."
The 26-year-old Gerolsteiner rider caused a sensation in July when he managed to get on to the overall podium at the Grand Boucle. Until then, his best career performance had been third spot at the 2006 Criterium Dauphine.
Kohl, who was the first Austrian rider to finish on the Tour de France podium for nearly half a century, has been recruited by Belgian team Silence-Lotto for three years starting in 2009, following the disappearance of the Gerolsteiner outfit.
Geert Coeman, the Silence-Lotto team boss, told Austrian agency APA however that Kohl's contract would be annulled if this positive test was confirmed.
"We have not yet been able to talk to Bernard," Coeman said. "But if the test is confirmed, we will take the necessary action. His contract with us would be made null and void. We have checked this information with the Gerolsteiner's manager, who has confirmed it.
"If this information is confirmed by the official authorities, the team management will start the legal steps in view of breaking immediately our future collaboration with Kohl."
Marc Sergeant, the sporting director of Silence-Lotto, told Belgian television station Sporza: "This has been a real slap in the face. We spent a lot of time and energy getting him to join us, thinking he was a great recruit. I feel betrayed."
© BikeRadar & AFP 2008