French prosecutors open inquiry

PARIS -- French prosecutors have launched a preliminary investigation to examine syringes found in medical waste containers during the Tour de France.

The case was opened after the discovery of several suspicious syringes in a container given by organizers to all of the teams to collect medical waste, the Paris prosecutors office said Tuesday, on the eve of the 2010 Tour course unveiling.

However, the office said it was not targeting a specific team from this year's tour, refuting a report by L'Equipe newspaper on Tuesday that said Astana was being investigated.

"Astana Cycling Team is surprised to read in the French press that the team is involved in an investigation by French prosecutors into doping," Astana said in a statement.

Tour winner Alberto Contador and third-place Lance Armstrong rode with Astana in the sport's biggest cycling race this summer. The Spaniard is still under contract with the Kazakh-funded team. Armstrong left to launch his own squad, RadioShack.

According to L'Equipe, the syringes will be analyzed by a forensic lab called Toxlab, which is responsible for determining their content.

Gilbert Pepin, a doctor at the lab, was not available for comment and did not immediately respond to an e-mail from The Associated Press.

"The Astana Cycling Team has nothing to hide, the riders use no forbidden substances," Astana said in its statement. "The team is confident in the result of analyses performed or to be performed by a Parisian laboratory and is prepared to cooperate."

Although there were no positive tests at this year's Tour, authorities did seize drugs that the French anti-doping agency's scientific adviser said raised questions.

The drugs -- which include treatments for diabetes, high blood pressure and convulsions suffered by manic-depressives -- are not banned but are "incongruous" in top-level athletes, professor Michel Rieu said last week.

Rieu declined to say which teams had substances examined, noting it was part of a judicial investigation.