UCI says to destroy samples, Casartelli memorial set for dedication

The late Fabio Casartelli in action during the 1995 Tour de France  Credit: Phil Cole/Allsport
PARIS (AP) ? In a surprise reversal, the head of world cycling's governing body has called for the destruction of frozen urine samples from riders at the last summer's Tour de France.

"The samples have no further value and, as far as we are concerned, they should be destroyed," Hein Verbruggen, president of the International Cycling Union, was quoted as saying Friday in the French sports daily L'Equipe.

Verbruggen issued the call in a letter to French Sports Minister Marie-George Buffet late last week.

Earlier last month, after consulting with the French sports ministry, the UCI decided to keep the samples, even though a reliable test for the banned performance-enhancing hormone EPO has failed to get approval.

The urine samples were taken from Tour de France riders in July and frozen in anticipation of IOC approval for an EPO urine test developed by the Chatenay-Malabry laboratory in France.

In his letter, Verbruggen wrote that the samples could not be used to penalize riders who may have cheated.

"The test has not been approved," he said. "And we do not know the effects of six months of freezing on the reliability of test results.''

Responding to the letter, the French sports ministry said it had no intention of destroying the samples.

"We will defrost the samples as we have always said we would, for scientific purposes,'' L'Equipe quoted the ministry as saying.

But Verbruggen warned against testing the frozen urine samples at all, even if only to determine whether or not EPO had been used during the Tour.

"Any result will leave an uncertainty," Verbruggen said. But, because culprits could not be named, "it would mean accusing someone without any proof."

Verbruggen's letter also claimed that under UCI rules, the cycling body was the legal owner of the frozen samples.

But the French sports ministry dismissed the claims.

"Do the rules of the UCI prevail over French law?'' L'Equipe quoted officials as saying.

The French sports ministry said the decision to defrost the samples would most likely be made next week, after a meeting in Paris scheduled for Monday between ministry officials and a UCI delegation.

Although the IOC approved a combined blood and urine test for the recent Sydney Olympics, it has not approved a urine-only test.

Casartelli memorial to be dedicated
ALBESE CON CASSANO, Italy, Dec. 1 (AFP) ? A monument honoring Italy's late former Olympic cycling champion Fabio Casartelli will be inaugurated here Sunday.

Casartelli, the 1992 road race Olympic gold medallist in Barcelona, was killed on July 18, 1995, after an accident during the last Tour de France won by Spanish legend Miguel Indurain.

The monument in the rider's hometown near Lake Como is the work of sculptor Bruno Luzzani, who also created a landmark at the spot where Casartelli had his fatal accident.

The new memorial will be inaugurated after Sunday mass here and the ceremony will be attended by his widow Annalisa, young son Marco and Casartelli's parents.

Many leading local cyclists, including double Olympic champion Antonella Bellutti, Alessandra Cappellotto, Davide Rebellin and Alberto Elli will be present.

Ekimov to go Postal for another year
NEW YORK, Nov. 29 (AFP) ? Russia's Olympic time-trial champion Viacheslav Ekimov gave two-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong a timely boost on Wednesday when he extended his contract with the US Postal Team by a year.

The decision by the 34-year-old, who was also crowned Olympic team pursuit champion in 1988 under the banner of the former Soviet Union, comes as a welcome fillip for Armstrong just days after leading teammate Kevin Livingston decamped to major rival Jan Ullrich's Telekom team.

Postal calls probe a 'witch hunt'
NEW YORK, Nov. 29 (AFP) ? The U.S. Postal cycling team of double Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong has been unjustly accused of doping by the French justice system, the head of the USA Cycling Federation told French news agency, Agence France-Presse on Wednesday.

Michael Plant said the Paris-based investigation into the team for alleged doping offences had turned into a "witch-hunt".

"I am indignant at the attitude of French judges who are showing gross negligence and who have opened an investigation before the facts have been checked out," he told AFP.

A full French judicial investigation into U.S. Postal was opened on November 22 on the basis of a preliminary probe into the team following an anonymous tip-off.

Plant said he was disgusted by suggestions that Armstrong, who recovered from testicular cancer to win the 1999 and 2000 Tour de France races, used doping substances.

"Leave him alone," said Plant, who said the French authorities had been trying to incriminate the American rider for three years.

Armstrong's coach Chris Carmichael said the rider denied taking any illegal substances and was convinced that he and his teammates would be cleared.

"Lance is not worried because he knows that neither he, nor his teammates, have anything to reproach themselves for," said Carmichael.

"He remains confident that the affair will very quickly die down due to a lack of evidence," he added.

Armstrong is currently undergoing conditioning training in his hometown of Austin, Texas.

The French investigators are seeking to establish whether the team has broken laws on the prevention of the use of doping products, inciting the use of doping products and whether it has contravened legislation regarding toxic substances.

No member of the team or its support staff have yet been questioned by the investigators.

Latest UCI rankings
GENEVA (Nov. 30) XINHUA ? Leading world rankings issued by the International Cycling Union (UCI) in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Thursday:

1. Francesco Casagrande, Italy, 2,467.00 points
2. Erik Zabel, Germany, 2,181.00
3. Romans Vainsteins, Latvia, 2,099.00
4. Lance Armstrong, United States, 1,896.00
5. Roberto Heras Hernandez, Spain, 1,767.00
6. Jan Ullrich, Germany, 1, 671.75
7. Davide Rebellin, Italy, 1,612.00
8. Laurent Jalabert, France, 1, 493.75
9. Andrei Tchmil, Belgium, 1,457.00
10. Paolo Bettini, Italy, 1,437.00

Lance wins literature award
LONDON (AP) ? American cyclist Lance Armstrong won Britain's top sports literature prize Monday for his autobiography, "It's Not About the Bike.''

The book chronicles Armstrong's recovery from testicular cancer to win the Tour de France in 1999, a feat he repeated this year.

"It's Not About the Bike'' beat out six other finalists for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award, which carries a 10,000-pound (dlrs 15,000) prize.

The book was written with American journalist Sally Jenkins, the first female author to win the award.

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