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The career of four-time Tour of Spain winner Roberto Heras hangs in the balance after it was revealed on Monday night that the Liberty Seguros team leader had tested positive for the blood-boosting substance EPO on the way to victory at this year's Vuelta in September. The 31-year-old Spaniard has been suspended by his team pending the result of a counter-analysis, which is expected to be announced on November 21.
According to news reports in Spain, Liberty were forced into making a statement announcing Heras's suspension after the news of a positive A test was leaked to the press. The positive stems from a dope control that Heras underwent following his second place finish in the Vuelta's penultimate stage, a time trial at Alcala de Herares. Noted climber Heras finished second in the flat time trial, coming in just half a second behind Ruben Plaza, who finished fourth in the world time trial championship a few days later.
That second place wrapped up Heras's record-breaking fourth Vuelta victory, but if his positive test is confirmed he will be stripped of the win, which will be handed to runner-up Denis Menchov. Heras would become only the second major tour winner in the modern era to be stripped of victory. Compatriot Angel Arroyo was relegated from first place to 10th at the 1982 Vuelta after a positive dope test in the era when riders received time penalties rather than bans for doping offences.
News of the rider's suspension came in a press release from Active Bay, the company that owns the Liberty Seguros team. Active Bay stated that Heras had been suspended by the team on October 27 when both they and the International Cycling Union had been made aware of the positive test for EPO.
"In order to respect the presumption of innocence and to await the result of the counter-analysis, the company's board of directors took the decision to not release the news until the facts had been confirmed," said the statement. "However, because of leaks to the press that took place at the end of today the decision was taken to release this statement.
"The company reiterates its firm desire to keep fighting for a clean sport and commits itself to maintaining this stance in all cases, but at the same time does so without wanting to allowing Roberto Heras the chance to prove his innocence, which he says he can, and which we trust he can."
Heras, who faces a two-year suspension if the positive test is confirmed and possibly the premature end of his pro career, has strongly declared his innocence and suggested that a mistake must have been made in the testing process. "I was very surprised by the news. I am convinced that it's a mistake because I've never taken anything," he told one newspaper.
"The first I thought when I heard the news was that a mistake had been made by the laboratory," he said on Spanish radio. "There can be no other explanation. My lawyers are already working on the matter. I hope that the counter-analysis will prove me right."
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