21 July 2008

Barloworld withdraws sponsorship

As Barloworld withdraws its cycling sponsorship following a doping scandal involving one of their riders, other cyclists plead with their fans not to 'give up' on them.

Barloworld will withdraw its cycling sponsorship after one of its riders was expelled from this year’s doping-marred Tour de France. The move will be made immediately after the race ends July 27 in Paris.

Barloworld rider Moises Duenas Nevado of Spain tested positive for the banned blood-booster EPO earlier this week. "They don’t want to be involved anymore in a sport that is dangerous to their image," team manager Claudio Corti said after stage 14. " "It’s a disappointment for cycling. It hurts the sport, but we have to thank Barloworld, because they had nothing to do with this story (doping)."

In a statement, the South African industrial conglomerate said its team has a "zero tolerance" policy on doping and that the doping scandal has had a "negative impact" on its brand image. Corti said Barloworld will still respect its financial commitment for the team through 2009.

This year’s Tour de France has been rocked by three positive doping tests and cyclists still in the event are pleading with fans not to "give up" on the sport.

Not all cyclists guilty of doping
Mark Cavendish wants to talk about his latest stage victory – not doping. British cyclist David Millar pleads with fans: "Please, don't give up on us." This may not be easy. This, after all, is the Tour de France.

Cavendish, a British sprint specialist on Team Columbia, captured the 13th stage on Friday - the fourth stage he has won and second in a row. He prevailed over a 182-kilometer (113-mile) course on a hot and wind-swept day along the Mediterranean while Cadel Evans of Australia kept the yellow jersey.

The drug use that is battering cycling's image yet again is starting to weigh on the riders' minds. But for Italy's Riccardo Ricco, who tested positive for the blood booster EPO, the consequences could be far more than psychological.

French authorities filed preliminary charges against him on Friday. He could face two years in prison if convicted on charges of using toxic substances, a French prosecutor said.

'No rider above suspicion'
Ricco, who won two stages of this Tour, was fired from his Saunier Duval team on Friday, a day after he was kicked out of the race. He is the third rider to be ousted.

Few are certain the Tour will be doping free between now and the end of the race, and these days virtually no competitor is entirely above suspicion.

Spanish riders Moises Duenas Nevado and Manuel Beltran were also ejected from the Tour this year for using EPO.

"I hope we're not going to find any more," said Pierre Bordry, the head of the French anti-doping agency that has been conducting the drug tests.

Ricco, this year's Giro d'Italia runner-up, was ordered not to speak to anyone from his team. Antoine Leroy, state prosecutor in the town of Foix, said Ricco had contested the claim that he had used EPO. A police search of a hotel room where the rider had stayed turned up medical equipment like syringes, catheters and medical bags - but no doping products, Leroy said.

Dopers could face up to five years in prison
Bordry said that Ricco had tested positive for CERA, or continuous erythropoietin receptor activator, an advanced version of EPO. Mircera, the brand name for CERA made by Swiss-based Roche Holdings, helps users produce more red blood cells, company spokeswoman Claudia Schmitt said. It received US and European approvals last year as a treatment for anaemia caused by kidney failure.

The substance remains much longer in the body than regular EPO.

Schmitt said Roche has provided information about the treatment to the World Anti-Doping Agency, which has banned EPO for use by athletes. Bordry said Piepoli was one of several riders targeted because he had suspicious blood parameters in pre-Tour blood tests July 4 and 5 and because of "information from outside sources." Bordry would not say what the sources were, adding only that he was awaiting test results on Piepoli and other riders.

A French law took effect this month making anyone who produces, transports, acquires or possesses doping products liable for up to five years in prison and a €75,000 fine.

Previously, possession of a doping product was not illegal. Some critics call the law too tough, saying athletes should be punished with sports sanctions, not legal ones.

Millar, who served a two-year ban after admitting to blood doping in 2004, empathises with fans angered by Ricco's test result. "If you're close to giving up on cycling, I can understand that," Millar wrote in his Tour diary on Friday. "I almost did after all. But, please, don't give up on us." – (Sapa, July 2008)

Read more:
Tour de France: scandal starts up again




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