Doubts hang over four Tour riders

The Tour is biding its time before deciding what, if any, action to take against four Tour riders al

The Tour is biding its time before deciding what, if any, action to take against four Tour riders al
The revelation that legal proceedings against four riders competing in the 2004 Tour de France have not yet been closed has left the Socit du Tour de France under intense pressure to react on Thursday. The previous evening in Arras, the president of Tour organisers ASO, Patrice Clerc, had affirmed that the race direction required further information before deciding whether to exclude US Postal's Pavel Padrnos, Stefano Zanini (Quick Step-Davitamon), Martin Hvastija (Alessio-Bianchi), and Stefano Casagranda (Saeco) from the race. Meanwhile, US Postal directeur sportif Johan Buyneel has repeated claims made on the eve of the race that the case against his team's rider, the Czech Pavel Padrnos, should be dropped: "I find it very, very surprising that this has suddenly become news again," Buryneel said. (see separate story). On Wednesday morning French newspaper Le Monde had reported that all four riders are involved in ongoing legal proceedings. A Socit du Tour rule according to which "any rider implicated in a judiciary investigation or cited in a police inquiry" cost Danilo Di Luca and Cdric Vasseur their Tour places last week. A strict application of regulation could see Zanini, Hvastija, Padrnos and Casagranda suffer the same fate. "We are still trying to contact the judges in Italy," Clerc said on Wednesday. "However, as we wait for more information, I asked Jean-Marie Leblanc to re-establish contact with the directeur sportifs after the stage [Wednesday's stage 3 from Cambrai to Arras]. I think that the directeurs will try to find out more from the riders. For the moment, I can't see what else we can do. We can't make a decision without giving the relevant people time to give their version and to check whether the accusation is true or not." The cases of Zanini, Hvastija and Padrnos all date back to the infamous San Remo drugs blitz of the 2001 Giro d'Italia. The funereal rhythms of the Italian judicial system that only now are all three cases nearing their conclusion. In 2001, Zanini was riding with a Mapei when, on June 6, a syringe containing traces of the banned substance insulin was allegedly found in his hotel room. Magistrates in San Remo subsequently opened a formal investigation into Zanini. The substance mannitol was allegedly confiscated from Padrnos during the same police raids. Le Monde states that Padrnos, a Saeco rider in 2001, and Zanini, have been summoned to San Remo face charges of violating Italy's anti-doping law on October 27. Both riders could reportedly receive prison sentences of between three years and three months and three years and fines of between 5,000 and 50,000 euros. Hvastija's legal woes relate to the same race, the 2001 Giro, but a different investigation. On the basis of hidden camera footage from Hvastija's hotel in Montecatini Terme, the Slovenian Alessio rider will reportedly have to respond to accusations of "using doping products, with no therapeutic justification, with the sole objective of improving sporting perfomance," in Padova this autumn. Le Monde's information about Casagranda, finally, also comes from judicial sources in Padova. They suggest that the Saeco domestique, a close friend and regular training partner of Gilberto Simoni, will face accusations of having bought of EPO in 2000 later this year. The trial is based in Bassano del Grappa, north-east Italy.
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