Phonak have repeated their support for Santiago Perez after he failed a test for blood doping and ha
PICTURE BY LAVUELTA.COM The Phonak team have repeated their backing for Santiago Perez after it was revealed over the weekend that the Spaniard had become the Swiss squad’s second rider to test positive for blood doping. Speaking at a press conference in Zurich on Monday, team manager Urs Freuler stated once again that the team believe in the innocence of both Perez and Tyler Hamilton, who fell foul of the same test at the Vuelta in September, and said that the team support anti-doping controls but that these must be “free of error, or the battle against doping loses credibility.” As part of the investigation into the ‘Australian method’ blood doping test, Phonak company boss Andy Rihs has enlisted the services of five scientists with specialisations in this area. This quintet will report directly to Rihs on the efficacy of the test and he has reportedly agreed to abide by their findings. If they find the test is sound, Hamilton and Perez will be sacked by the Phonak team, just as Oscar Camenzind was back in August after he tested positive for EPO. Even if Perez were to be sacked by Phonak, there is little chance of his three stage wins and second place finish at the Vuelta being struck from the record books. The 27-year-old Cantabrian rider underwent several dope controls during the race and returned negative results at all of them. However, the unexpected results of some of these tests led to the UCI following up with an out-of-competition test on Perez in early October, which delivered the positive result for blood doping. In Switzerland, the positive tests of three Phonak riders have intensified rumours that the team’s Pro Tour licence could be in jeopardy. This scenario remains unlikely. The UCI could only take such drastic action if the Phonak team was proved to have overseen a systematic doping program. In the absence of an extensive and costly investigation by the UCI, this proof may be impossible to find. More likely is that Rihs starts seriously questioning the wisdom and the future of his investment in cycling. According to reports in Switzerland, that is precisely what he is already doing.