Two riders will not start ninth stage

Updated: July 13, 2004, 10:14 PM ET
Associated Press

LIMOGES, France -- Two cyclists being investigated in doping cases were ejected from the Tour de France on Monday, a decision one of the riders said was "cruel."

Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc said Stefano Casagranda of the Saeco team and Martin Hvastija of Alessio were no longer welcome and would not start Tuesday's ninth stage.

"We do not want the serenity of the competition disrupted by their presence," Leblanc said.

Hvastija was 124th in the overall standings, and Casagranda 155th.

"I don't understand such a cruel decision," Hvastija told The Associated Press. He suggested that he and Casagranda were unfairly picked on because they are not top performers.

"If we looked at all the little problems that we have, half of the peloton should not restart," he said.

Hvastija said Italian investigators bugged a conversation he had with a teammate during the 2001 Tour of Italy about a recently banned substance. He did not reveal the name of the other rider or the product, but said it had been legally used before.

He said he told his Alessio team about the "small case" before the Tour, and that they supported him. He claimed Leblanc was aware of it and "respected the decision of my director" to let him race.

Meanwhile, Tour organizers have contacted judicial officials in San Remo, Italy, about an article in the French newspaper Le Monde that said one of Lance Armstrong's U.S. Postal Service teammates -- Czech Pavel Padrnos -- has been summoned to appear before an Italian tribunal for allegedly taking doping substances during the 2001 Tour of Italy.

Johan Bruyneel, the Postal team director, dismissed the report last week.

"There is no case. It's not even worth considering having any doubts about this boy because we're not speaking about any forbidden substance," he said.

Before the Tour, organizers said all riders "implicated in a judicial inquiry or under police investigation" would be barred.

David Millar of Britain and Cedric Vasseur of France, two of six Cofidis team members under investigation for suspected doping, and Danilo Di Luca of Italy have already been banned from the race. Last week, Belgian Christophe Brandt was expelled.

Hendrik Redant, coach of Brandt's Italian team Lotto-Domo, said the rider was sent home after testing positive for methadone, a drug used to help recovering heroin addicts.

Brandt suggested that a laboratory error might be to blame and said he was awaiting results of a second test.

Gabriele Coppola, a spokesman from Casagranda's Saeco team, said the squad has not yet received official Tour notification seeking to disqualify its rider and would not make a decision until getting official word.

Casagranda had trained on Monday and was having a massage and did not "want to talk to anybody," he said.

Asked if the team would take legal action against the Tour if Casagranda is excluded, Coppola said, "That is our right."

Christian Prudhomme, the assistant Tour director, said he did not expect the riders to race Tuesday. He said the teams have asked for a decision in writing -- an indication that legal action could follow.

Leblanc said he was prepared for any legal action taken by riders thrown off the Tour.

"We accept the risk of judicial action taken against us," he said.

In last year's race, Spain's Javier Pascual Llorente of the Kelme team tested positive for traces of EPO, which works by boosting oxygen-carrying red blood cells.

Also Monday, 42 riders, including overall leader Thomas Voeckler, were given blood tests. No anomalies that might hint at doping were found, the sports governing body said in a statement.

Cyclists from Voeckler's Brioches La Boulangere team, along with the teams Credit Agricole, Liberty Seguros, Illes Balears-B. Santander, Rabobank were tested on the off-day in Limoges.

The blood tests, overseen by the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale), involved all the riders from each team, the statement said.

Tuesday's ninth stage will take riders on a 100-mile run from Saint-L Deonard-de-Noblat to Gueret in France's Massif Central area.

Armstrong, trying for a record sixth Tour win, is sixth, 9 minutes, 35 seconds behind Voeckler. His chief rival, Germany's Jan Ullrich of T-Mobile, is 20th, 55 seconds behind Armstrong.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press