Spanish cycling team Saunier Duval have sacked Italian Riccardo Riccò following his positive doping control for EPO (erythropoietin) at the Tour de France, it was announced Friday.
Team manager Mauro Gianetti said that both Riccò and his Italian teammate Leonardo Piepoli, who was also kicked out even though he didn't test positive, had infringed the team's code of ethics.
The 24-year-old Riccò won two stages on this year's race but left the Tour under a police escort on Thursday following his positive test for the banned blood booster after the fourth stage time trial. The 36-year-old Piepoli won the prestigious 10th stage to the summit finish of Hautacam in the Pyrenees.
The entire Saunier Duval team left the Tour of their own accord prior to Thursday's 12th stage.
Gianetti's integrity as manager of the Spanish team has come under attack from Tour chief Christian Prudhomme.
"After speaking to the management of Saunier Duval this morning they decided to leave on their own accord," Prudhomme said Thursday. "But in general, I certainly don't feel that their manager is a model of virtue."
He added: "There's two ways to look at how they left the race. One is to say they are responsible (for Riccò's positive test), but that would make it appear like an admission (of guilt). The future will reveal more to us, hopefully the near future."
Gianetti claimed Friday he was "totally unaware of any doping practices going on in the team."
He added in the team statement that he was "shocked and bitter about this sad incident." Gianetti laid the blame squarely with Riccò, and said that further inquiries had prompted him to sack Piepoli as well.
"We have always paid close attention to what our riders are doing, and have always demanded an irreproachable attitude to their profession and to our code of ethics," said Gianetti. "All our riders gave us guarantees that they were clean. Riccò swore on his mother's head that he has never turned to illegal substances or means to improve his performance.
"Despite all the efforts made both internally and from outside the team we have failed to avoid this deplorable situation."
The news of the double sacking emerged only minutes after Riccò appeared at a court in Foix, near the Pyrenees, to answer charges relating to his positive drugs control. The possession, use and administering of banned substances is against French law.
Saunier Duval meanwhile have indicated they may pull out of sponsorship of professional cycling.
Top company official Thierry Leroy told French radio station RTL on Friday: "It is highly probable that we will pull out of sponsoring cycling following this affair."
Leroy said he was "disappointed and angry" and was ready to launch legal proceedings against the team if organised doping was proven.
© AFP 2008