Moreni flunks test, team withdraws as police search hotel
GOURETTE, France -- Doping again overshadowed racing at the Tour de France on Wednesday when an Italian rider was thrown out for failing a drug test, detained by police and had his hotel searched.
Cristian Moreni's positive test for testosterone prompted the withdrawal of his entire Cofidis team. Police were searching his hotel, and French TV showed police officers stationed on the premises.
Moreni's case fueled the deep sense of crisis already hanging over the race and sport. It came one day after star rider Alexandre Vinokourov and his entire Astana team were sent home after he tested positive for a banned blood transfusion.
French riders staged a protest at the start of Wednesday's 16th stage to express disgust at the repeated doping scandals that have left cycling's credibility in tatters.
Jean-Francois Lamour, vice president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, suggested Wednesday that the sport could be withdrawn from the Olympics. One of Switzerland's biggest newspapers stopped writing about the Tour because of the recent doping scandals.
Moreni tested positive for testosterone after stage 11 of the Tour last Thursday, said Didier Simon, of cycling's world governing body, the UCI.
"He accepted his wrongdoing and did not ask for a B-sample," Cofidis manager Eric Boyer said.
Athletes caught doping are entitled to ask for follow-up tests to confirm -- and in rare cases refute -- the results of the initial sample.
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Police detained Moreni, apparently for questioning, and drove him away. France has tough laws against trafficking in doping products.
Between 20 and 25 officers were also carrying out a raid at the hotel where the Cofidis team was staying Wednesday evening, said Cmdr. Pierre Bouquin, a spokesman for the gendarmerie. Results from the raid in the town of Lescar weren't expected until Thursday.
Danish rider Michael Rasmussen -- who has been surrounded by doping controversy himself -- won Wednesday's stage and extended his overall lead. He looks increasingly likely to win the race when it finishes Sunday in Paris.
Moreni was in 54th place overall at the end of Wednesday's stage, 1 hour, 56 minutes and 11 seconds behind Rasmussen.
The test analysis for Moreni was conducted by the Chatenay-Malabry lab on the outskirts of Paris.
Previously, Tour rider Patrick Sinkewitz had tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone. Sinkewitz has denied doping and asked for his B sample to be tested, with the results expected to be known by Sunday.
Sinkewitz tested positive in training on June 8 -- a month before the Tour started -- but he competed in the race until he crashed into a spectator during the eighth stage on July 15. The Cofidis team pulled out of the Tour de France on Wednesday after rider Cristian Moreni of Italy failed a doping test and was led away by police at the end of the 16th stage.
Before the start, dozens of riders had staged a silent protest against the continuing doping scandals -- and some fans booed Rasmussen. He was kicked off the Danish national team last week for missing several drug tests before the Tour.
"It did happen during the stage," Rasmussen said of the booing. "I believe there's a lot of frustration among the people and in the peloton about what's going on. About what happened to Vino, since he is not here, people are taking their frustrations out on me."
At the start, the pack of riders split into two groups: those who took the start as normal -- including Rasmussen -- and those who protested by hanging back, causing a 13-minute delay.
"We're fed up," AG2R rider Ludovic Turpin of France told Eurosport television.
Meanwhile, Spanish officials said at least one small explosive device detonated along the route as the race nosed into northern Spain. Spanish media said the blast or blasts were preceded by a call in the name of Basque separatist group ETA, but Spain's Interior Ministry said it could not confirm that. No injuries were reported.
Tour organizers announced that 14 riders from French teams Cofidis and AG2R had blood tests early Wednesday. The tests were all negative.
In all, 225 blood tests have been conducted so far at the three-week race.
Without the Kazakh rider and Astana, the field was reduced to 151 riders. The team's withdrawal also meant two of the top 10 riders were out -- Andreas Kloeden of Germany, who was fifth, and Kazakhstan's Andrey Kashechkin, who was eighth.
Police seized a stash of medications left in riders' luggage during a raid Tuesday on a hotel used by Astana, a source close to the investigation said Wednesday. The source requested anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
Because the drugs were labeled in a foreign language, it was not immediately clear what their contents were. A laboratory was to examine the seized medications to try to identify them.
Vinokourov told L'Equipe for Wednesday's edition that he had not cheated.
"It's a mistake. I never doped, that's not the way I see my profession," the newspaper quoted him as saying. "I think it's a mistake in part due to my crash. I have spoken to the team doctors who had a hypothesis that there was an enormous amount of blood in my thighs, which could have led to my positive test."
Vinokourov claimed to be the victim of a "provocation."
"It's been going on for months and today they're managing to demolish me," he said. "The setting up of our team made a lot of people jealous and now we're paying the price. It's a shame to leave the Tour this way, but I don't want to waste time in proving my innocence."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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