AURILLAC, France – Veteran Spanish rider Manuel Beltran has tested positive for the performance enhancement drug Erythropoietin (EPO) at the Tour de France. He was immediately suspended by his team and French police took the cyclist from his hotel.
"There are not just traces of EPO, there is EPO," Pierre Bordry, leader of the French anti-doping agency, told The Associated Press by telephone on Friday. "Whether there is a lot or a little, EPO is forbidden."
Bordry said the 37-year-old Liquigas rider has been informed of the result from a test carried out during the race, and he has the right to ask for a second backup sample to be tested.
Calls made to Tour de France race director Christian Prudhomme were not immediately returned. Paolo Barbiere, a spokesman for Beltran's Liquigas team, said he could not confirm the report.
A strong climber, Beltran helped Lance Armstrong win the Tour in 2003, 2004 and 2005, often pulling the Texan up the steep climbs.
Beltran is the fourth former Armstrong teammate to test positive for doping; the others were Floyd Landis, Tyler Hamilton and Roberto Heras.
The Tour was devastated by doping scandals last year, when pre-race favorite Alexandre Vinokourov of Kazakhstan tested positive for blood doping, Spaniard Iban Mayo was busted for using EPO, and race leader Michael Rasmussen was kicked out just days before the end for lying about his whereabouts to avoid pre-Tour drug tests.
During the 2006 Tour, American Floyd Landis tested positive for synthetic testosterone after a spectacular comeback ride that set the stage for his victory. He was later stripped of the title after a long court battle.
None are riding in this year's Tour.
Race organizers had pledged a harder approach to combating drug cheats at this year's Tour, with eight specially trained chaperones shadowing riders after each stage, even climbing onto team buses, to ensure riders went to post-stage anti-doping checks.
Every rider had blood tests done before the start of the race by Bordry's agency (AFLD), which is responsible for testing along with the French cycling federation. The International Cycling Union is not involved this year because of a long-standing rift with ASO.
The AFLD announced Friday that some 20 riders had abnormal blood test results before the race, but none exceeded the limits for hematocrit. High levels of hematocrit are indicators of EPO use but do not confirm it.