Vuelta runner-up Santiago Perez has confirmed reports that he has tested positive for blood doping.PICTURE BY LAVUELTA.COM The Swiss Phonak team have become embroiled in their third high-profile doping affair in as many months after being informed by the International Cycling Union (UCI) that Vuelta runner-up Santiago Perez has given a positive result for blood doping. The news about Perez follows closely on a very similar case involving Tyler Hamilton at the Vuelta in September, while former world champion Oscar Camenzind tested positive for EPO in July just before the Olympics. According to reports in the Spanish press, the UCI became suspicious of Perez's blood levels during the Vuelta, where he won three stages and finished a very close second to Roberto Heras. When Perez visited his Phonak team's Swiss headquarters in early October, the UCI dope testers took advantage of his close proximity to their own HQ to carry out an out-of-competition test in Aigle on October 5. When this test showed evidence of blood doping, a test on the B sample was carried out on October 27 and that offered the same result. Perez has adamantly denied that he has had recourse to blood doping. "The news I have been given is that they have detected irregularities in my blood as a consequence of a transfusion from another person," Perez told AFP. "All I can say is that I have not undergone any type of blood transfusion. I am not sure what they are talking about. I am sure that the truth will come out very soon and it will show that none of what they are accusing me of is true." Like Hamilton, Perez is being solidly backed by his Phonak team, although it would seem likely that the Spaniard will face the same fate as the American and be suspended by his team until their investigations have thrown more light on the matter. A statement on the team's website said of Perez's test results: "Because this test's soundness and interpretation are still being disputed, the team management is maintaining the rider's innocence." The statement continued: "This has to do with an interpretive test for which we have no validating documents to date. So far, neither the UCI nor the IOC [International Olympic Committee] has provided, or has been able to provide, us with these supporting documents. A panel of internationally recognised serologists, haematologists and microbiologists was formed, and it is now working under pressure to examine this test procedure, both in terms of its methodology and its application. If it turns out that the new test delivers clear and reliable data for a flawless interpretation and that the previous UCI tests are confirmed, then both riders would have to be dismissed in accordance with our regulations. In the event that they are shown to be innocent, then both Perez and Hamilton will remain on the 2005 team." With Phonak's name tarnished once again, company owner Andy Rihs has said he intends to get to the bottom of the issue as soon as possible. "Our greatest effort is still fighting all forms of doping. But in order to protect the sport, the tests used have to be absolutely correct. Otherwise the entire effort loses credibility," said Rihs. "We assure you that we're doing everything to clear up these cases. And to do that, we're looking into the matter scientifically. The project initiated is in the service and best interest of the sponsors and a clean sport of cycling." Although there is no good time for news like this to break, this weekend's announcement has been particularly untimely for Perez, who is in negotiations to increase the size of his contract with Phonak. The Spanish press reports that the Spaniard's manager, Tony Rominger, has been asking for a significant increase in the rider's earnings following his stunning ride at the Vuelta. Perez's team-mate, Hamilton, who has also maintained his innocence in the face of positive tests for blood doping, has said that he will provide evidence to back up his claims that he has done nothing wrong. Although Hamilton is currently refusing to release any details on how he will be challenging the validity of recently introduced blood doping tests, it is reasonable to assume that Phonak's panel of scientific experts will be playing a key role, which will now cover Perez's case as well. Whichever way the final analysis on the blood doping tests goes, it seems certain that there will be some significant fall-out. If Hamilton and Perez are cleared, then the UCI and the IOC blood testing procedure will be in ruins and both organisations could be open to large financial claims. If the validity of the test is supported then Hamilton and Perez would face long-term bans and Phonak's Pro Tour place could be in question.