Pau, France: The RadioShack Nissan Trek team pulled Frank Schleck, one of the biggest names in professional cycling, out the Tour de France on Tuesday after he failed a doping test, threatening to overshadow Bradley Wiggins’ bid to win the three-week race in Paris this weekend.
The 32-year-old rider from Luxembourg, who was third in last year’s Tour, left a police station in Pau where he had discussed the case with authorities after cycling’s governing body announced the positive test.
The International Cycling Union, or UCI, said Schleck had tested positive for banned diuretic Xipamide in an anti-doping test conducted by a French anti-doping lab on a sample taken from him on Saturday.
“I categorically deny taking any banned substance. I have no explanation for the test result and therefore insist that the B sample be tested which is my right,” Schleck said in a statement sent to Luxembourg media network RTL on Tuesday night.
“If this analysis confirms the initial result, I will argue that I have been the victim of poisoning,” said Schleck, who was in 12th place in the overall standings.
It marked the second doping scandal to hit this Tour, and was another reminder of the doping cloud that has damaged the image of cycling and its biggest event for years.
Schleck, the RadioShack leader, had been in 12th place overall — nine minutes, 45 seconds behind leader Wiggins — going into the second and latter rest day on Tuesday.
The revelation was likely to add stress on the crash-and sickness-depleted pack, just as they were gearing up for two gruelling days in the Pyrenees starting on Wednesday.
Wiggins, who is aiming to become Britain’s first Tour champion, leads fellow Briton and Sky teammate Christopher Froome by 2:05 and Vincenzo Nibali of Italy by 2:23. Defending champion Cadel Evans of Australia is fourth, 3:19 behind.
Competitors in the 99th Tour had plenty of time to ponder the tricky 16th and 17th stages on the rest day, with the Pyrenees visible on the horizon from the medieval, palm tree-lined city of Pau.
Wednesday’s stage runs through the so-called “Circle of Death” along four brutal climbs — none more daunting than the 2,100-metre Tourmalet. On Thursday, the last summit finishes atop the 1,600-metre Peyragudes.
Wiggins is talking a big game in his bid to become Britain’s first Tour de France champion. He says Wednesday’s stage “isn’t any more difficult than any other stage we’ve done up to this stage, really”.
Wiggins said the Tourmalet was nothing special.
“It goes uphill like all the others, doesn’t it?” he said.
The four renowned passes the riders will climb Wednesday are the Peyresourde, Aubisque, Aspin and Tourmalet, the highest point on this year’s Tour. The pack on Thursday must ascend the Col de Mente and Port de Bales before scaling Peyragudes.
“Generally, the Pyrenees are a bit harder than the Alps,” said US cyclist Tejay van Garderen. “The roads are a bit rougher. They’re just a bit more taxing.”
But the more immediate question for the whole pack was how it would surmount cycling’s latest positive test for doping — this time at the heart of a well-known cycling family and one of its big-name teams.
The RadioShack team said in a statement that it had decided to withdraw Schleck from the race, and said that the diuretic is not present in any medicine used by the team.
The statement said “the reason for the presence of Xipamide in the urine sample of Mr Schleck is unclear to the team. Therefore, the team is not able to explain the adverse findings at this point”.
Team spokesman Philippe Maertens said Schleck went to the Pau police station of his own accord to cooperate with authorities. Maertens said the rider knew police would likely be coming for him.
Maertens said the team is likely to ask for the ‘B’ sample to be analysed. That request must come within the next four days, according to the UCI.
“If it comes back positive he will be suspended by the team,” Maertens said.