Tour scandal: nine riders barred

The Union Cycliste Internationale has announced the names of the nine riders who will be barred from

The Union Cycliste Internationale has announced the names of the nine riders who will be barred from
The nine-man list contains the names of Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich but also five riders from the Astana Wurth team. It now looks certain that the entire Astana Wurth team and its captain, Alexandre Vinokourov, will leave France before the Tour begins tomorrow afternoon.

Article 2.2 of the UCI road race regulations dictates that the minimum number of riders a team can field at the Tour is six. In the meeting which led to Basso and Ullrich's exclusion this morning, the 20 ProTour team representatives decided that they would not substitute any riders ejected today.

The nine riders listed in the UCI communique - and whose names will now be struck off tomorrow's start list - are: Isidro Nozal, Allan Davis, Sergio Paulinho, Joseba Beloki, Alberto Contador (all Astana Wurth), Francisco Mancebo (AG2r), Ivan Basso (CSC), Oscar Sevilla and Jan Ullrich (both T-Mobile).

These nine riders are among 58 apparently under investigation by the Spanish Guardia Civil. Newspapers in Spain and France this morning cited up to 37 riders' names. Liberty Seguros's 2005 roster accounts for 15 of these. Ten more compete in the colours of Comunitat Valenciana. Spanish newspaper El Pais today published more of the alleged "doping programmes" seized from Eufemiano Fuentes which appear to chart riders' use of blood transfusions and banned products.

Telephone taps are thought to have turned up more key evidence, casting suspicion over Ullrich in particular. The codenames written on the back of a business card confiscated from haemotologist Jose Luis Merino are thought to have offered further important clues. One of those codenames - "Birillo" - happens to be the name of Basso's pet dog.

The investigators' suspicions may have deepened when they realised that former Comunitat Valenciana man Alejandro Valverde owns a dog called "Piti" - another name which appeared on the business card. Reports in Spain have indicated that Valverde escaped action today as the last references to "Piti" allegedly date from 2004.

The Illes Balears rider told the press in Strasbourg that the scandal was "a very big blow for the race". "Sevilla is a friend and Ullrich is an important figure and one of the big favourites," Valverde said. "It's strange, what's happening, but you could see it coming... I hope that the race can overcome these setbacks and that it will be a clean race."

This evening, the man who started the day as the favourite to win that race was already heading back to his home near Varese in northern Italy. As Bjarne Riis walked out of the CSC team hotel and into a huge scrum of reporters at around 1.30 this afernoon, Ivan Basso was leaving swiftly and silently out of a side entrance. A sole television camera was there to capture the moment. Basso's only words: "I haven't done anything at all, but my lawyers will do all of my talking for me."
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