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Developing: l'affaire Saunier Duval

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Though Saunier Duval has left the race, they are not out of the headlines just yet. Speculation abounds about another positive on the team, speculation reinforced by the firing of Leonardo Peipoli. The story of how the LLND managed to catch Riccardo Ricco in flagrante delicto has also emerged, demonstrating a growing cooperation among international anti-doping experts.

More details on the flip.

Updated, Saturday.

Gav's note: I updated this one with a few more bits from today's news, and bumped up the time stamp. No huge developments just yet.

Ricco charged. Arrested yesterday after the announcement of his positive test for EPO, Riccardo Ricco remains in police custody today. The prosecutor in the case has announced that they have charged Ricco with use of a controlled substance. The police escorted him to the border, and he is on his way back to Italy, as of now.

Peipoli Fired. Speculation abounds today that Leonardo Peipoli has also tested positive, after L'Equipe reported that a second Saunier Duval rider has returned a non-negative test. The decision of Saunier Duval to fire the Italian has added credibility to the rumors, though the team management denies receiving any notice of a positive test. The pre-emptive action by the Saunier Duval team management represents a desperate, and likely doomed, effort to distance themselves from the doping adventures of their two riders. Any hint of team-sponsored or organized doping will mean the withdraw of the sponsor and the end of the team. Already the Vuelta organizors have suggested that Saunier Duval might not be welcome at the third grand tour of the year. If they hope to preserve the team, the management's only hope, and an increasingly slim one it is, is to act quickly to demonstrate a hardline on doping. All the same, the press reports today that a withdraw from the sport by Saunier Duval is likely imminent.

The Search for CERA. How did the testers catch up with Riccardo Ricco? According to an article in eurosport.fr, suspicions of Ricco's activities date from the Giro. In the course of testing samples taken from Ricco during the race, testers at CONI found a substance they could not identify. They knew that the substance did not belong and recognized its synthetic nature, but did not know exactly what it was.

CONI contacted experts at the LLND in France, and there began an cooperative effort to identify the mystery substance. The knowledge of doping experts around the world contributed to the monthlong seminar, and soon their efforts led to the ability to detect the new variant of EPO, Ricco and perhaps Peipoli, chose to use. In a comment in the Danish press, Damsgard, who heads the anti-doping program at CSC, applauded the effort and predicted more positives before the Tour ended. He also predicted that many of these cases would likely end up decided by TAS, but believed that route represented the only way forward, given the speed with which doping practices, and the tests to prevent them, evolve.

Ricco's Giro Results. It is unclear just yet if CONI will open a case against Ricco. But certainly, it would not be surprising. CONI detected the unknown substance, and now, thanks to the cooperative efforts, have confirmed that it is a banned substance. Consequently, it's reasonable to expect that there may yet be a revision of the Giro results. Stay tuned.

More to come? No doubt there is more to come with this story, as the positive test results date from Stage 4 of this Tour. Since the mountains traditionally lead riders of the doping persuasion to dig deeply into their suitcases of syringes, it's hard to imagine that at least one, if not more, positives will emerge before the Tour reaches Paris.

Update, Saturday. Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf reports that a third rider from Saunier Duval is likely positive. They do not name the rider, and so far, there has been no confirmation of this report elsewhere. DS of Saunier Duval Mauro Gianetti said that he talked to Juan Jose Cobo and Cobo denied using doping products. Gianetti has also denied team wide doping. Though I have lost confidence in Peipoli, for the moment, "I do not have any doubts" about Cobo, Gianetti said. All the same, the team's general manager, Thierry Leroy has said that it is now "very very likely" that the sponsor will withdraw as a consequence of Ricco's positive test and arrest.

In Italy, bike racing fan and ex-premier (I thought he was currently still premier, but eh, whatever) Prodi has declared himself shocked and dismayed by the Ricco positive. He has publicly urged Ricco to make a full confession. No word yet as to whether Ricco has chosen to take his advice, and claims that the syringes and other doping accoutrement found in the hotel were for vitamins. Eh, not the most original of excuses.

Barloworld.On the subject of sponsors, Barloworld has today announced that they will cease sponsorship at the end of the Tour. Chris Fischer, the director of marketing for Barloworld, said that the Dueñas positive had a negative effect on their brand and contradicted the values their company wished to demonstrate. The contract between the team and sponsor runs until the end of 2009, and they will continue to honor their obligations. As I understand it, this means that the sponsor will continue to pay the bills, but will not be a named sponsor of the team, but perhaps more explanation of the arrangement will appear later. Dueñas meanwhile has reportedly named Spanish doctor Jesus Losa, in the statement he gave to French police. Dueñas reportedly confessed to the French authorities. Losa has denied the accusation, natch.