France's top cycling team Cofidis have exited the Tour de France following confirmation of a positive doping test for their Italian rider Cristian Moreni here on Wednesday.
Cofidis are the second team in as many days to be thrown off the race, following the premature exit of Astana on Tuesday due to a positive blood doping control for pre-race favourite Alexandre Vinokourov.
Moreni was officially thrown out of the race following the 16th stage, the third and final day in the Pyrenees, after being told he had tested positive for testosterone.
The 35-year-old former Italian champion, who has also competed for the Quick Step and Liquigas teams, tested positive for the banned hormone after an International Cycling Union (UCI) sanctioned control following the race's 11th stage in Montpellier, according to a race official here.
Moreni was subsequently held by local police and arrived back at the team hotel in a police car. The police subsequently searched the team's rooms and several of their vehicles.
"Moreni is being held by police," the local prosecutor Erick Maurel told AFP, adding that other people were also being questioned by the police.
The sponsors of Cofidis immediately asked the team's sports director, Eric Boyer, to pull his riders out before any decision had been made by the race organisers. Boyer said they would forego their right to ask for analysis of a 'B' sample.
Boyer, who has been at the forefront of the fight against doping in the sport since he took over the team in June 2005, said that Moreni had put his hand up.
"I spoke to Moreni and he admitted to me straight away that he had used a medicine that caused him to test positive for testosterone," said Boyer. "At least he owned up to that fact which is not what a lot of riders do," he added.
French police meanwhile were seen carrying out searches of the Cofidis team hotel. Cofidis suffered the same fate as the Kazakh-backed Astana team, who departed the race under a cloud on Wednesday after undergoing similar treatment at their hotel in nearby Pau.
Moreni's positive test is the third official doping case to be announced at the Tour, which will end this Sunday in Paris withAlberto Contador now in the yellow jersey following the ejection of Michael Rasmussen on Wednesday night.
It was announced last week that Germany's Patrik Sinkewitz had tested positive for testosterone, although the T-Mobile rider's control was carried out in June. Sinkewitz was at home recovering from injuries sustained in a crash in the Alps when he heard of the news, and the result of analysis on a B sample has yet to be released.
Vinokourov had come into the race as one of the yellow jersey favourites, but was soon left trailing in the mountains as a fifth stage crash, in which he sustained knee injuries, took its toll. A day after struggling to keep pace in the undulating 12th stage, the 33-year-old Kazakh bounced back into contention for overall victory by winning the 13th stage, his first ever time trial win on the race.
A day later, Vinokourov inexplicably collapsed on the 14th stage. As Contador went on to dominate Rasmussen at Plateau de Beille, the Kazakh finished nearly half an hour adrift. The next day Vinokourov went on the attack to win the hilly 15th stage, claiming his second stage win of the race although remaining well out of yellow jersey contention.
His joy did not last long. The following day he was told he had tested positive for homologous blood doping.
If an analysis of his 'B' sample also tests positive, it means that Vinokourov has injected red blood cells from a compatible donor to enhance his performance.
Moreni, who has a stage win from the Tour of Spain and two from the Giro d'Italia, has won no stages on the Tour de France.
For an earlier report on Moreni, click here.
© AFP 2007