Swiss rider Thomas Frei has been withheld from competition by BMC Racing Team management after he returned an A sample positive for the banned blood booster, EPO.
The 25-year-old had finished ninth in stage two of the Giro del Trentino, won by Italian rider Riccardo Riccó, to move into sixth overall. Frei was withdrawn from the event immediately pending the return of his B sample.
“It has come to our attention that Thomas Frei has been informed that he was tested A positive regarding the use of EPO,” said BMC Racing Team president Jim Ochowicz in an official statement.
“As a consequence, the BMC Racing Team and its members have made the decision to withhold Thomas Frei from competition, in accordance with the BMC Racing Team’s own policy.”
This latest development comes after Alessandro Ballan and Mauro Santambrogio were withdrawn from competition due to being named in the Mantova investigation that involved the Lampre team, the squad from which they moved late last year.
BMC Racing management has constantly reiterated that the move is no indication of the Italian’s guilt and it has done likewise with the finding on Frei. “This should not be seen as pre-determination of guilt. The rider will now have to personally address the accusation,” Ochowicz said.
It’s bittersweet news for the team, which yesterday celebrated its first Classics win when Cadel Evans took the Fléche Wallonne title. The squad will now focus on its Liège – Bastogne – Liège campaign, which has been hampered by an injury to Dutch rider Karsten Kroon, who fell during yesterday’s event.
BMC’s sponsorship of professional cycling has – unfortunately for owner Andy Rihs – been littered with doping scandals. First with the Rihs-owned Phonak team. Phonak was disbanded in 2006 following a series of 11 doping cases in five years, culminating in Floyd Landis’s positive test for testosterone at the 2006 Tour de France.
In 2007, BMC supplied bikes to Astana, until the positive doping tests of Alexandre Vinokourov, Andrei Kashechkin, Matthias Kessler and Eddy Mazzoleni persuaded them to pull out. In the meantime, they had been backing a small US team under the BMC name. That turned into a bigger project when they started getting invited to ProTour races.
They signed some big names for 2010, including current world champ Cadel Evans, ex-world champ Alessandro Ballan and experienced riders George Hincapie and Karsten Kroon. That led to them getting an invitation to this year’s Tour de France. However, with the news of Thomas Frei’s positive test, they haven’t managed to completely shake the spectre of doping from within their ranks.