Wed, Jul 14, 2004 - Page 20 News List

Tour bans a pair of riders who remain under investigation

AP , LIMOGES, FRANCE

The Tour de France ejected two riders on Monday because they are under investigation in doping cases -- a decision one of the cyclists said was cruel.

Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc said Stefano Casagranda of the Saeco team and Alessio rider Martin Hvastija 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," he said.

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

"I don't understand such a cruel decision," Hvastija told AP. The Slovenian 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. The peloton is the cycling term for the pack of riders.

He 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, in response to an article in the French newspaper Le Monde newspaper that said one of Lance Armstrong's US Postal 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.

Italian Danilo Di Luca of Saeco, Britain's David Millar and Frenchman Cedric Vasseur, both under investigation in the Cofidis doping scandal, have already been barred from the race. Last week, Belgian Christophe Brandt was expelled.

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

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

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.

Gabriele Coppola, a spokesman from Casagranda's Saeco team, said the team is prepared to take legal action.

"That is our right," Coppola said.

In a statement, the team added: "It is difficult to understand what elements have made the presence of Casagranda disturbing."

Also Monday, a rest day, 42 Tour riders underwent blood tests but no anomalies that might hint at doping were found, cycling's governing body said in a statement.

The cyclists tested came from the Credit Agricole team, Liberty Seguros, Illes Balears-B. Santander, Rabobank and Brioches La Boulangere.

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