Italian rider Danilo Di Luca has been provisionally suspended by the International Cycling Union (UCI) on Wednesday after failing two drug tests for EPO Cera during the 2009 Tour of Italy.
The 33-year-old LPR team leader, who is not competing in the Tour de France, won two stages of the Giro and wore the leader's pink jersey for eight days. He finished second overall just 41 seconds behind Russian Denis Menchov.
The UCI said that Di Luca, winner of the 2007 Tour of Italy, tested positive for the banned-blood booster erythropoietin (EPO) CERA on May 20 and May 28 following blood tests carried out by a French laboratory.
"These adverse findings were a direct result of a targeted test programme conducted on Mr Di Luca using information from his biological passport's blood profile, previous test results and his race schedule," the UCI said in a statement.
"The provisional suspension of Mr Di Luca remains in force until a hearing panel convened by the Italian Cycling Federation determines whether he has indeed committed an anti-doping rule violation under Article 21 of the UCI Anti-Doping Rules."
Di Luca is the first team leader to be suspended owing to test results based on the recently introduced biological passport.
Di Luca insisted that he was clean.
"Would I be so stupid as to take Cera at the Tour of Italy one year after (Ricardo) Ricco, (Emanuele) Sella and (Davide) Rebellin were caught?" said Di Luca. "I've fallen from the clouds, it's really very strange, so much so that I couldn't say how I feel. Two years would be a terrible penalty for me which would force me to retire.
"There's talk about Cera but I didn't take it, also because many athletes have been caught taking it and falling into this trap would have been really stupid," he added. "For me it's important now to have the B samples tested in a different laboratory to the one in Paris because I've heard they use strange methods.
"How do I feel? How should I feel? I know what's awaiting me. But most of all I know that if it's confirmed this will be the end for me."
Di Luca was due to take part in the Brixia Tour in Italy on Thursday and had been targeting the world championships at the end of September in Mendrisio, Switzerland.
It is not Di Luca's first brush with anti-doping forces.
He was banned for three months in 2007 following a hearing of the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) for his ties to doctor Carlo Santuccione in the "Oil for Drugs" case.
In April 2008, Di Luca, was acquitted by CONI following insufficient evidence after an abnormal control during his 2007 Tour of Italy win.
Since April, a dozen riders have fallen foul of drugs testers including Holland's Thomas Dekker (Silence) and Spaniard Inigo Landaluze (Euskaltel), who also tested positive for EPO Cera.
This new generation form of EPO was first detected last summer with Italy's Riccardo Ricco, second in the 2008 Giro, forced to quit the Tour de France during the race.
© 2009 AFP
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