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Liberty Seguros team director Manolo Saiz has admitted to being shocked when he heard the news of Roberto Heras's positive test for EPO at the Vuelta, but has said he is giving his team leader all of his support during the current crisis. Speaking to Radio Marca, the always extremely quotable Saiz said "I would put my hand in a fire for Roberto," and added that he hoped Heras, who has been suspended by the Liberty team, would be able to show his innocence.
"This is a very difficult day for all of us and very tough at a personal level," said Saiz. "Roberto is not in a good way at all, quite logically he wasn't expecting this kind of news."
Saiz had arranged to do a telephone news conference on Tuesday afternoon, but the idea was abandoned. He did confirm, though, that he would not be speaking about Heras's positive test until the results of the rider's B sample had been ascertained on November 21.
"Until I get the results I will have full confidence in my rider. In moments like these you can't think the worst," Saiz said on Radio Marca. "We can't say anything until the day of the counter-analysis because the athlete has certain rights which must be respected."
Saiz, whose team could lose its main sponsors if Heras's positive test is confirmed, criticised the difference between the number of tests undertaken in cycling and in other sports. But, he said, his main concern is with his suspended rider's welfare.
Both of the team's main sponsors, Liberty Seguros and Wurth, are to reported to have clauses written into their contracts enabling them to rescind their deals in the event of positive doping cases. Clearly, the Heras case has the potential to push both backers into activating these clauses and leaving Saiz and his team without a sponsor going into next season.
Heras's recently retired team-mate Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano, who is now working with the Euskaltel team, said he had been surprised by the news but had "absolute confidence in Heras". He described the EPO test as "much discussed and not very trustworthy" and pointed out that other riders had managed to reverse supposedly positive EPO tests.
Vuelta director Victor Cordero said that, in the case of Heras's positive being confirmed "it would not be right to speak of him being trapped. What it shows is that our methods are working and that we are very serious about the fight against doping."
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