Fuji-Servetto rider tests positive for EPO

New scandal means team unlikely to be asked back to Tour de France following this year's exclusion

by Simon_MacMichael   November 6, 2009  

Syringe

World Cycling’s governing body, the UCI, has announced the provisional suspension of Spanish rider Alberto Fernandez De La Puebla after traces of EPO were found in a urine sample taken in September from the cyclist, who rides for the Fuji-Servetto team.

The sample was taken in an out-of-competition test on September 15, with the rider specifically targeted as a result of information contained in his biologiocal passport, according to the UCI. The Spanish Cycling Federation will now meet to decide whether to confirm the suspension, while 25-year-old Fernandez de la Puebla has the right to ask for an analysis of his B sample.

The Spaniard is one of several riders from Fuji Servetto to fail a drugs test since the team was founded in 2004 (as Saunier-Duval), and it has been excluded from both the Vuelta and the Tour de France because of its doping record.

In 2007, Saunier-Duval’s Iban Mayo became the first rider to test positive for using EPO during the Tour de France since a test for the blood-boosting agent had been formulated seven years earlier. The following year, Italian riders Riccardo Ricco and Leonardo Piepoli from also failed tested positive during the race.

Those incidents led organisers Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) to exclude the team’s current incarnation, Fuji-Servetto, from this year’s race. It did compete in the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta this year, although as Saunier-Duval it had been excluded from the 2008 Vuelta following Rico and Piepolo’s positive tests.

On the other hand, perhaps luckily for the team, its bikes are equipped with SRAM components, rather than Shimano – recently, the latter issued a statement setting out its position relating to teams it equips whose riders fail drugs tests. As far as we know SRAM has not made any such similar statement about its position on this subject. We've asked SRAM about this and we’ll let you know their response as soon as we hear back.

The team’s history of doping scandals, plus Fernandez de la Puebla’s positive test, assuming it is confirmed, makes it highly unlikely that ASO will extend an invite to Fuji-Servetto to take part in next year’s Tour de France, which could benefit the new Team Sky outfit who are relying on a wild-card entry to enable them to take part in the race.

The news of Fernandez de la Puebla’s failed test is the latest in a series of setbacks for Spanish cycling in the fight against doping, including the ongoing reverberations of Operacion Puerto and last week’s revelations by magazine Iterviu of a series of text messages alleged to have passed between a number of riders and a doctor implicated in administering doping techniques.

There’s also the small matter of Vuelta winner Alejandro Valverde’s attempt to have his two-year suspension from competing in Italy, which kept him out of this year’s Tour de France as a result of the race’s brief transalpine excursion, overturned at the Court of Arbitration in Sport. That decision is expected later this year, and if Valverde loses his appeal, the UCI is expected to extend his ban worldwide.

UCI Preisdent Pat McQuaid has been highly critical in the past of the efforts of the Spanish authorities to fight doping within cycling, although more recently he has said that he believes the situation is improving.

However, there is a school of thought in some quarters that Spanish efforts have been scaled down in recent months to avoid overshadowing Madrid’s unsuccessful bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games – the implication being that now that bidding process is over, further cases of doping may start coming out of the woodwork.