Okay, with Stage 13 on the books, where are we with the doping cases? Well, first we had Manuel Beltrán nailed for erythropoietin (EPO); his team Liquigas pulled him out of the Tour and suspended him. Next up was Moisés Dueñas as the second rider with a "non-negative test" for EPO. Number three is Riccardo Riccó, also nailed on suspicion of EPO.
Here is where it gets interesting.
Riccó's team, Saunier Duval immediately pulled out of the race, reminiscent of last year's abrupt departure of Astana after Vinokourov tested positive for autologous blood doping. Nothing too new here except one might draw certain suspicions from the fact that another top Astana rider Andrey Kaschechkin also later was busted. More on that in a bit.
At any rate, page down on this page for some analysis from doping-control experts:
Daniel Friebe: In the last twenty minutes we've heard that Riccardo Riccò has tested positive for an EPO-like product. The early reports suggest that Riccò used CERA or Micera. a so-called third generation EPO. What's your reaction?
Michel Audran: Wow. I'm stunned. I'm amazed they're saying it's Micera, simply because there's no validated test for that yet. The World Anti-Doping Agency is working on a test, but it certainly doesn't exist yet.
DF: What exactly is CERA, or Micera to give it its commercial name?
MA:It's a delayed-action EPO, which has a different molecular mass from EPO. It's only been commercially available since the start of the year. We can tell when someone's used it but we can't declare them positive. In that respect it's like Dynepo, another EPO-like product. We know that Micera was being used on the Giro, so I'm not surprised that it's also turned up at the Tour. But I would be very surprised if they AFLD had declared Riccò positive for Micera, for the reasons I've just mentioned. Maybe they searched Riccò's room and found the product itself...
Aha! So the dopers thought they had a new product that could beat the system. And you know what that means......this is just the tip of the old iceberg. Hmm, and furthermore, you will note that these chaps thought they were being very clever because they were submitting pre-Tour samples that already looked a bit suspicious. I.e., probably a high hematocrit. The idea being, if you think you can't get nailed for EPO, you could even lay down a trail of high hematocrit values absent evidence of EPO use, to excuse later high hematocrit. "I just have a naturally high hemaotocrit!", they'll cry.
Okay, back to our story. Saunier Duval next fired Riccó...and teammate Leonardo Piepoli (who had not yet tested positive):
Piepoli, the winner of stage 10 to Hautacam, is not reported to have failed a drugs test, but the team decided to fire him after conducting an internal investigation. "[Gianetti] did a personal investigation and consequently lost faith in Riccò but also in Piepoli because of a violation of the team's ethics code," read a team statement.
Yup. Dopers a-plenty. Dopers who win stages and even if they don't are major players in the race. Players who screw up the validity of the race six ways to Sunday. You can't just award the race stage to the next guy in cycling stage races. I mean, you can. But the integrity of the race is screwed up. Because what an individual rider does, doped to the gills, affects everyone else. It affects the guy who went on break with them and just sucked wheel. It affects the non-doper who was put over the limit and cracked because he couldn't hang.
Oh man, stay tuned. No doubt more doping drama to come. [And maybe we'll learn a little more about this "Micera/CERA"...]