Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Frank Schleck Casts New Shadow Over Tour

Just as the race looks to reach a new height of excitement (at last) as it meanders into the Pyrenees for today's stage 16 and tomorrows stage 17, a new rest day doping scandal rears its ugly head and casts a shadow over the Tour de France. This time it is Frank Schleck in the firing line as it comes to light following a doping control at the end of stage 14 that Franks 'A' test has been found to contain the diuretic Xipamide, but is there something far darker at work here...

Since the news came out yesterday evening Radioshack-Nissan-Trek (RSNT) have withdrawn Frank Schleck from the race, stating:

"After being informed by the UCI about the presence of xipamide in the urine sample of Fränk Schleck on July 14, the team has decided to immediately withdraw Fränk Schleck from the Tour de France. Even though an abnormal A sample does not require these measures, Mr. Schleck and the team believe this is the right thing to do, to ensure the Tour de France can go on in calm and that Fränk Schleck can prepare his defence in accordance with the legal timing to do so. On the subject of xipamide the team can declare the following: it is not a product that is present in any of the medicine that the team uses and the reason for the presence of xipamide in the urine sample of Mr. Schleck is unclear to the team. Therefore, the team is not able to explain the adverse findings at this point. However, the team is fully determined to collaborate with the anti-doping agencies in order to resolve the matter."

It is true that Xipamide does not seem to appear, directly, on an WADA banned substance list, though the UCI have no directly imposed any sanction, their statement more than hinted to RSNT that they needed to take control of matters: ''The UCI is confident that his team will take the necessary steps to enable the Tour de France to continue in serenity and to ensure that their rider has the opportunity to properly prepare his defence in particular within the legal timeline, which allows four days for him to have his B sample analyzed." Diuretics are often used, by the way, for weightloss as they induce a need to nip off to the toilet more often, however they have also been used as masking agents to hide further methods of doping, such as blood transfusions.

Frank Schleck has already requested for his 'B' sample to be tested and says that if it is also found to contain the diuretic then it is a case of 'poisoning'. This may not be as make-believe as it sounds. I have no evidence to back up my claims but there seems to be a correlation between riders leaving or disputing with Johan Bruyneel and then later testing positive for a banned substance. A conspiracy theory, maybe. But with it widely speculated that both Schlecks will most likely be leaving RSNT at the end of the season following months of in-team fighting and probably taking other riders with them it could be reason enough to tar him with a positive test. Not to mention that Frank, along with other RSNT riders have expressed dissatisifcation at not being paid for quite a while, from what I gather the riders are owed a substantial amount of money, it would be convenient to find a reason not to pay up, such as a positive test for instance. It's not just frank that this will smear, indeed Andy Schleck, who appears to live out of his brothers pocket will no doubt also fall under suspicion. It's a double hit. My only issue with this theory is that Johan Bruyneel would surely not be looking to bring any more heat upon himself as he's being investigated by the USADA - as Frank Schleck is part of his team this clearly isn't go to look good.

Of course I'm not looking to defend Frank Schleck. I've long been left feeling suspicious about the Schlecks ability to perform like the finest cyclists on the planet for 3 weeks of the year and then produce form no way near that of the tour for the rest of the season. Of course all athletes look to achieve training peaks, and this could just as easily pass for that but along with their not very outspoken take on doping and the Contador affair, plus the fact that in the past Frank Schleck has already faced questions from anti-doping regarding his 2008 payment to Dr Eufemiano Fuentes, the figure at the centre of Operación Puerto, for 'training plans'.

This is just the latest in the RSNT/Bruyneel/Armstrong saga and this in particular leaves a bad taste in the mouth, another competing rider possibly testing positive is never a great move for a sport which is fighting hard to appear to be cleaning up its act...

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