Tour de France riders were taking a rest day on Tuesday, unlike the French police charged with fighting doping in the sport.
The scourge of drug use returned to cycling’s main event as a French rider was arrested at his hotel and suspended by his Cofidis team on Tuesday as part of a long-running doping investigation.
The arrest of 26-year-old Remy Di Gregorio, a once-promising climber who joined Cofidis this year, prompted the French team to provisionally suspend him — ending his Tour. He remained in police custody on Tuesday.
As often when such scandals hit, Tour officials said the arrest proved the anti-doping fight was working. The race’s top team, Sky, responded by telling reporters that the subject of doping was off-limits.
The revelations threatened to overshadow a race that has so far been dominated by Sky’s Bradley Wiggins — an Olympic champion hoping to become the first Briton to win the Tour — and his powerful squad.
As the Tour heads into the Alps, Cofidis said it would remain in the race despite the arrest, saying the rider was innocent until proven guilty. Di Gregario’s teammates could face questions before the start of the 10th stage today.
Judicial officials said two other people suspected of supplying Di Gregorio with banned substances were also arrested — one with the rider in the eastern town Bourg-en-Bresse, and another in southern Marseille.
Cofidis team manager Yvon Sanquer said police agents “discreetly” entered the team hotel and no riders noticed the arrest as it happened. He said he only found out later, when authorities told him about it.
The judicial officials, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly as the probe is ongoing, said the arrest was a result of an investigation begun in June last year. It was led by OCLAESP, a police unit responsible for doping investigations, and Marseille police.
“[The police] have followed Remy’s actions for a good while,” Sanquer told a news conference in eastern Saint-Albain.
If the team had known earlier, Di Gregorio would have been released immediately, he said.
It comes despite a public effort by cycling’s governing body, the International Cycling Union, to stamp out doping — which has caused scandal after scandal after the Festina affair nearly derailed the Tour in 1998.
Doping has weighed heavily on the sport’s image this year. Two-time Tour winner Alberto Contador of Spain is sitting out the Tour this year to serve a doping ban linked to the race in 2010. Seven-time champion Lance Armstrong has been charged by US Anti-Doping Agency with doping.
Sanquer, who took up his post two days before the start of the Tour, said his teammates reacted with a mix of “anger and devastation.”
“When I explained the situation to them, it was painful for them,” he said. “There were tears.”
Di Gregorio had been in 35th place. The Marseille native turned pro in 2005 with French team Francaise des Jeux, and was once considered a top French prospect. When the probe began last year, Di Gregorio was riding for Astana. He won one stage in last year’s Paris-Nice race with the Kazakh team. This season, he had one stage win, in the Spanish Tour of Asturias in April.
Sanquer said he believed Di Gregorio, who recently became a father, “didn’t understand the breadth of what he was doing and the seriousness of what he could be doing” if the accusations turn out to be true.