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Tour de Dope?

July 12, 2008 |  7:26 am

French gendarmes walk past the Italian cycling team Liquidas bus prior to the eighth stage of the Tour de France.

Manuel Beltran isn't among the riders in today's leg of the Tour de France because the Spanish veteran has tested positive for the performance-enhancer EPO, the Associated Press reports.

“When are these idiots going to learn that it’s over?” Pat McQuaid, head of the International Cycling Union, told AP. “They continue to think that they can beat the system. They’re wrong. The system is catching up all the time.”

The Liquigas team suspended Beltran immediately after the news of the positive test broke on Friday evening. The rest of the Liquigas team will race today -- in contrast to the Cofidis team, which last year withdrew after Cristian Moreni tested positive for a banned substance.

The Beltran case represented yet another embarrassment for the Tour de France, which has struggled for years to persuade the world that its ranks are clean when it comes to doping. Here is the Tour's code of ethics.

Philip Hersh blogged here on July 9 about the Tour's continuing allure, even in the face of cycling's rash of doping cases. Diane Pucin wrote a column in today's Los Angeles Times about the issue.

AP reported that Beltran was released at 12:30 a.m after being questioned by police for two hours. A police official who wanted to remain anonymous because he wasn't authorized to discuss the case said that Beltran maintained his innocence.

Liquigas team manager Roberto Amadio told AP that “we have a very hard line on doping in the team. It is unthinkable. [Beltran] said it is impossible and he doesn’t know what happened. We have the right to a second test and we have 10 days before" finding out the result.

Beltran and his team are awaiting results of a second test that is necessary to confirm the initial positive finding. Tour director Christian Prudhomme said a statement will be issued later today.

“Obviously I can’t say I’m happy, but I am happy that it is working,” said Patrice Clerc, president of Tour de France organizer ASO. “The good news is that there is one cheat less in the Tour de France.”

--Greg Johnson

Photo: French gendarmes walk past the Italian cycling team Liquigas bus before the eighth stage of the Tour de France. Credit: Patrick Hertzog  AFP/Getty Images