Spanish cyclist Manuel Beltran, who rides for the Liquigas team in the Tour de France, has tested positive for the blood booster erythropoietin (EPO), an anti-doping chief told Agence France Presse (AFP) Friday.
Pierre Bordry, the chief of the French national anti-doping agency (AFLD), confirmed an earlier report that the Spaniard had failed a drugs test.
"I can confirm the report," Bordry told AFP. "The rider concerned has been informed of the results of the analysis of the tests we took and has been informed of his rights."
Tour organiser, Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), announced Friday evening that it had received confirmation from AFLD of the positive result.
"The organisation of the Tour de France has received the confirmation from the AFLD that Manuel Beltrán had been tested positive after the first stage," the ASO statement said. "They notice the decision of the team Liquigas to exclude Beltrán from the Tour de France, according to the contract signed with all the teams engaged in the Tour."
Bordry said Beltran was targeted for further testing, this time via a urine sample, after anomalies appeared in a blood sample taken at the start of the July 5-27 race. He said the presence of EPO was confirmed in the urine sample.
"We took a urine sample from him on Saturday (July 5) because of anomalies in his blood sample. The urine sample tested positive for EPO."
Beltran, a former teammate of seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, is now likely to be thrown off the race, while his team risks also being ejected.
A team spokesman confirmed to AFP: "The police have taken Manuel away for questioning. He was not sharing the room with any other teammates. It was only his room that was searched."
Liquigas team manager Roberto Amadio speaks to the crush of reporters outside the team hotel
Liquigas said they have suspended Beltran, but insisted that his case was isolated. The team are likely to be allowed to remain on the race, if they manage to convince Tour organisers that Beltran's is an isolated case.
"Our first decision is to suspend Manuel," said team manager Roberto Amadio. "He has told us he has done nothing wrong and he wants to have a counter-analysis done, so until then all we can do is to suspend him. But if that also tests positive, his contract with the team will be terminated.
"Our first reaction to this news is one of surprise," Amadio added. "For us it's a very bad situation, for the whole team, including the riders who must start the race tomorrow. We have an active anti-doping programme in place, so for us if this result is confirmed it is an isolated case."
Last year the entire Cofidis team were told to pack their bags when Cristian Moreni tested positive for testosterone.
The Astana team of current Tour de France champion Alberto Contador, who is not racing at the Tour this year, was also ejected from last year's race when Alexander Vinokourov tested positive for blood doping.
The news of Beltran's positive test would be the first of this year's race, prior to which organisers and anti-doping authorities said they had cranked up the fight against doping following several years of scandals.
As the Tour de France is being held outside the auspices of the International Cycling Union (UCI) this year, the AFLD is running all the blood and urine controls.
The AFLD took blood samples from the entire 180-strong peloton at the start of the race. These samples have been analysed in Lausanne, and also sent to the UCI to form part of their database of profiles for the 'biological passport' scheme.
Ironically, the AFLD was forced on Friday to deny a report in the French Le Monde newspaper which claimed that 10 riders were soon to be informed of anomalies from the pre-race tests.
In a statement the AFLD said it had merely informed the doctors at the teams concerned that some riders "risked health problems" due to deficiencies relating to certain biological parameters.
In a telephone call with AFP, Bordry added: "I cannot say if we have targeted other riders, or whether other riders have been informed."
Beltran in the leader's gold jersey during the 2004 Vuelta
Beltran began his career in the legendary Mapei team in 1995, but came to wider attention when he joined the US Postal team of seven-time winner Armstrong in 2003. The 37-year-old was at Armstrong's side during the last three of his successful Tour campaigns, in 2003, 2004 and 2005, the latter while racing with Discovery Channel.
Beltran joined Liquigas, with whom he raced the Tour de France last year and finished 18th overall. Beltran built his career on being a team helper in the crucial mountain stages, where teams aim to drop their rivals by fast pace-setting.
© BikeRadar & AFP 2008