Top Giro rider Garzelli suspended from the race for doping

CASERTA, Italy (AP) — Giro d'Italia top rider Stefano Garzelli was suspended from the race Tuesday after second tests on urine samples confirmed the presence of a banned diuretic, officials of his Mapei team said.

Garzelli first tested positive following the second stage of the Giro at Liege, Belgium, last Monday.

He had been allowed to stay in the race pending second tests, whose results were announced after Tuesday's ninth stage in this southern city.

Tests were carried out at a laboratory in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Mapei team spokesman Alessandro Tenier said Garzelli's suspension from the Giro was automatic following outcome of the second test.

"The levels of the banned substance were infinitesimal ... but the tests still were considered positive," Tenier said.

Team manager Alvaro Crespi said the low level of Probenecid, the banned diuretic found in Garzelli's urine samples, "could not hide anything ... thus it was nonsense taking it."

Some experts contend that diuretics may hide doping substances.

Garzelli, a Giro winner in 2000, had won two stages in this year's edition and had been wearing the pink jersey of overall leader for four days.

He surrendered the leadership to Germany's Jens Heppner Saturday, after starting in the stage knowing of his possible suspension.

"I'm prepared to return home, but I have been disgraced for something that I have not committed," Garzelli said Tuesday at the finish line here.

Garzelli, who always denied any wrongdoing, abandoned the race while in second place overall, 3:33 minutes behind the German leader of Team Telekom.

The suspension rocked his hopes to win the Giro for the second time in three years.

Mapei officials alleged a possible plot against their team captain and made public that Garzelli had tested clean at doping controls in the two racing days following the stage in Liege.

Garzelli was tested daily as race leader.

Garzelli told television interviewers that doping substances, if taken, would hardly disappear from blood and urine in a few days.

Garzelli's suspension and the detention of three Giro cyclists in doping-related cases have challenged the credibility of Italy's most popular race.

Pietro Calabrese, editor of sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport, which organizes the Giro, said suggestions to stop the race following the doping scandal were silly provocations.

"The Giro must be cleaned, cheaters must be kicked out and cyclists must return to the clean rules of sports ... otherwise cycling would die," Calabrese said.

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