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After the Spanish cycling federation announced on Wednesday evening that 2005 Vuelta a Espa¤a winner Roberto Heras is to be banned for two years after testing positive for the blood-booster EPO on the penultimate day of that race, the former Liberty Seguros rider and his legal team have announced that they will be appealing against the ban. As well as the ban, Heras was also stripped of his record-setting fourth Vuelta title, which has now been awarded to runner-up Denis Menchov, with Carlos Sastre now confirmed in second place and Francisco Mancebo third.
Heras's lawyer, Jos Maria Buxeda, told Spanish daily El Pais that an appeal would be launched against the rider's ban, although he was unable to say whether the legal challenge would be undertaken through the civil courts in Spain or through the Court of Arbitration for Sport. "We have to take some time to study closely the decision to assess what form the appeal should take," said Buxeda. "If we opt for the CAS, there will not be a resolution to this in the next five months."
Heras, who will be 32 on February 21, was released by Liberty Seguros last November when news of his positive test for EPO was released. His legal team has subsequently attempted to contest the results of the analysis undertaken by an International Cycling Union-registered lab in Madrid, insisting that mistakes had been made during the testing process.
The Spanish federation investigated these claims but have clearly decided the testing process was followed and have imposed the standard two-year ban, which is expected to start in the next few days. Heras was informed of their decision by post on Wednesday. Although he could return to racing in 2008, the rules of the ProTour would prevent him from signing with a ProTour team for another two years.
As well as his overall victory at the Vuelta, Heras will also be stripped of his two stage wins during the race at Valdelinares and Pajares once the Vuelta organisers receive confirmation of the positive test from the UCI. These will now be awarded to Menchov and Euskaltel's Samuel Sanchez respectively.
Vuelta director Victor Cordero has said that his organisation would look at holding an awards ceremony to honour Menchov and the other podium finishers. "I like the sound of that," said the Russian. "I'm really pleased to have won the Vuelta, although it was something I was aware might happen as far back as November and it was just a question of waiting."
Liberty Seguros team manager Pablo Anton described the news of Heras's ban as "sad" but "predictable". "The sanction is harsh, and we are very sad about it," said Anton. "I speak to him quite often and he was hopeful."
The mayor of Heras's home town of Bejar, Alejo Ri¤ones, said that the whole town felt sad about what had happened to its most famous son. He also said that the town would make their feelings felt when this year's Vuelta finishes at the Covatilla resort that stands above Bejar.
Heras becomes the second rider to be stripped of a Vuelta victory after failing a dope test. In 1982, Spaniard Angel Arroyo saw his win taken away after he tested positive for amphetamines. The victory was awarded to Marino Lejarreta, now a directeur sportif at Heras's former Liberty team.
Heras to appeal two-year banClose
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