The Saunier Duval-Scott team have voluntarily withdrawn from the Tour de France in the wake of the positive drug test returned by their star climber Riccardo Ricco.
Ricco, the current wearer of the polka dot jersey, produced a positive A sample for the blood-booster EPO in a test undertaken after the fourth stage of the Tour, the Cholet time-trial on July 8.
Saunier Duval, a Spanish team, had won three stages of the 2008 Tour prior to Thursday’s announcement.
Team manager Joxean Fernandez said: “The organisers allowed us to take the start (of Thursday’s 12th stage), but we could not do so as if nothing had happened.
“We are responsible and we have weighed up all that has happened.
“If it had been another rider in our team, then maybe we could have continued.”
Ricco, nicknamed the Cobra, was taken off his team bus by French police prior to the 12th stage from Lavelanet to Narbonne.
The 24-year-old Italian is the third rider to test positive for EPO in this year’s Tour, after Manuel Beltran and Moises Duenas Nevado.
However, Beltran’s Liquigas and Duenas Nevado’s Barloworld squads opted to continue.
Duenas Nevado’s test, announced on Wednesday, also concerned the Cholet time-trial.
Ricco triumphed in two Pyrenean stages, at Super-Besse and Bagneres de Bigorre, the second of which was marked by a speedy acceleration on the slopes of the Col d’Aspin.
“It does not surprise me all that much that it is Ricco (who has tested positive),” former yellow jersey holder Kim Kirchen told Eurosport.
“When you see someone accelerate past you that quickly, you start to have suspicions, though that thought is always retrospective.”
Saunier Duval’s withdrawal means that Ricco’s King of the Mountains jersey passes to Sebastian Lang of Gerolsteiner, as the second-placed rider in the climbers’ competition was also a Saunier Duval man, David de la Fuente.
Ricco was also the holder of the maillot blanc for best young rider, so that passes to Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas.
Ricco has come under the spotlight throughout his Pro Tour career as he has a naturally high hematocrit level, which measures the volume of red blood cells.
After exhaustive tests earlier in his career, the International Cycling Union concluded Ricco’s hematocrit level could be considered to naturally exceed 50%, around 4% higher than the norm.
Ricco was believed to be among a group of 20 riders who produced an abnormally high hemotacrit level in a blood test at the start of the Tour de France, but not above the allowed limit.
EPO increases the number of red blood cells produced by the body, aiding the flow of oxygen to the lungs and heightening performance.
It has only been detectable by testers from around 2000.
Ricco finished second to Alberto Contador in this year’s Giro d’Italia, winning two stages in the process and taking the best young rider jersey.