PAU, France – The RadioShack Nissan Trek team pulled Frank Schleck, one of the biggest names in pro cycling, out the Tour de France on Tuesday after he failed a doping test, threatening to overshadow Bradley Wiggins’ bid to win the three-week race in Paris this weekend.
The 32-year-old rider from Luxembourg, who was third in last year’s Tour, left a police station in Pau where he had discussed the case with authorities after cycling’s governing body announced the positive test.
The International Cycling Union, or UCI, said Schleck had tested positive for banned diuretic Xipamide in an anti-doping test conducted by a French anti-doping lab on a sample taken from him on Sunday.
It marked the second doping scandal to hit this Tour, and was another reminder of the doping cloud that has damaged the image of cycling and its biggest event for years.
Schleck, the RadioShack leader, had been in 12th place overall – 9 minutes, 45 seconds behind leader Wiggins – going into the second and latter rest day on Tuesday.
The revelation was likely to add stress on the crash-and sickness-depleted pack, just as they were gearing up for two grueling days in the Pyrenees starting today.
Wiggins, who is aiming to become Britain’s first Tour champion, leads fellow Briton and Sky teammate Christopher Froome by 2:05 and Vincenzo Nibali of Italy by 2:23. Defending champion Cadel Evans of Australia is fourth, 3:19 behind.
Competitors in the 99th Tour had plenty of time to ponder the tricky 16th and 17th stages on the rest day, with the Pyrenees visible on the horizon from the medieval, palm tree-lined city of Pau.
Today’s stage runs through the so-called “Circle of Death” along four brutal climbs – none more daunting than the 7,000-foot Tourmalet. On Thursday, the last summit finishes atop the 5,300-foot Peyragudes.
Wiggins is talking a big game in his bid to become Britain’s first Tour de France champion. He said today’s stage “isn’t any more difficult than any other stage we’ve done up to this stage, really,” adding that the Tourmalet was nothing special.
“It goes uphill like all the others, doesn’t it?” he said.
The four renowned passes the riders will climb today are the Peyresourde, Aubisque, Aspin and Tourmalet, the highest point on this year’s Tour. The pack on Thursday must ascend the Col de Mente and Port de Bales before scaling Peyragudes.
“Generally, the Pyrenees are a bit harder than the Alps,” U.S. cyclist Tejay van Garderen said.
But the more immediate question for the whole pack was how it would surmount cycling’s latest positive test for doping – this time at the heart of a well-known cycling family and one of its big-name teams.
The RadioShack team said in a statement that it had decided to withdraw Schleck from the race, and said that the diuretic is not present in any medicine used by the team.