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Moreni flunks test, team withdraws as police search hotel

GOURETTE, France -- Doping again overshadowed racing at the
Tour de France on Wednesday when an Italian rider was thrown out
for failing a drug test, detained by police and had his hotel
searched.

Cristian Moreni's positive test for testosterone prompted the
withdrawal of his entire Cofidis team. Police were searching his
hotel, and French TV showed police officers stationed on the
premises.

Moreni's case fueled the deep sense of crisis already hanging
over the race and sport. It came one day after star rider Alexandre
Vinokourov and his entire Astana team were sent home after he
tested positive for a banned blood transfusion.

French riders staged a protest at the start of Wednesday's 16th
stage to express disgust at the repeated doping scandals that have
left cycling's credibility in tatters.

Jean-Francois Lamour, vice president of the World Anti-Doping
Agency, suggested Wednesday that the sport could be withdrawn from
the Olympics. One of Switzerland's biggest newspapers stopped
writing about the Tour because of the recent doping scandals.

Moreni tested positive for testosterone after stage 11 of the
Tour last Thursday, said Didier Simon, of cycling's world governing
body, the UCI.

"He accepted his wrongdoing and did not ask for a B-sample,"
Cofidis manager Eric Boyer said.

Athletes caught doping are entitled to ask for follow-up tests
to confirm -- and in rare cases refute -- the results of the initial
sample.


Police detained Moreni, apparently for questioning, and drove
him away. France has tough laws against trafficking in doping
products.

Between 20 and 25 officers were also carrying out a raid at the
hotel where the Cofidis team was staying Wednesday evening, said
Cmdr. Pierre Bouquin, a spokesman for the gendarmerie. Results from
the raid in the town of Lescar weren't expected until Thursday.

Danish rider Michael Rasmussen -- who has been surrounded by
doping controversy himself -- won Wednesday's stage and extended his
overall lead. He looks increasingly likely to win the race when it
finishes Sunday in Paris.

Moreni was in 54th place overall at the end of Wednesday's
stage, 1 hour, 56 minutes and 11 seconds behind Rasmussen.

The test analysis for Moreni was conducted by the
Chatenay-Malabry lab on the outskirts of Paris.

Previously, Tour rider Patrick Sinkewitz had tested positive for
elevated levels of testosterone. Sinkewitz has denied doping and
asked for his B sample to be tested, with the results expected to
be known by Sunday.

Sinkewitz tested positive in training on June 8 -- a month before
the Tour started -- but he competed in the race until he crashed
into a spectator during the eighth stage on July 15.
The Cofidis team pulled out of the Tour
de France on Wednesday after rider Cristian Moreni of Italy failed
a doping test and was led away by police at the end of the 16th
stage.

Before the start, dozens of riders had staged a silent protest
against the continuing doping scandals -- and some fans booed
Rasmussen. He was kicked off the Danish national team last week for
missing several drug tests before the Tour.

"It did happen during the stage," Rasmussen said of the
booing. "I believe there's a lot of frustration among the people
and in the peloton about what's going on. About what happened to
Vino, since he is not here, people are taking their frustrations
out on me."

At the start, the pack of riders split into two groups: those
who took the start as normal -- including Rasmussen -- and those who
protested by hanging back, causing a 13-minute delay.

"We're fed up," AG2R rider Ludovic Turpin of France told
Eurosport television.

Meanwhile, Spanish officials said at least one small explosive
device detonated along the route as the race nosed into northern
Spain. Spanish media said the blast or blasts were preceded by a
call in the name of Basque separatist group ETA, but Spain's
Interior Ministry said it could not confirm that. No injuries were
reported.

Tour organizers announced that 14 riders from French teams
Cofidis and AG2R had blood tests early Wednesday. The tests were
all negative.

In all, 225 blood tests have been conducted so far at the
three-week race.

Without the Kazakh rider and Astana, the field was reduced to
151 riders. The team's withdrawal also meant two of the top 10
riders were out -- Andreas Kloeden of Germany, who was fifth, and
Kazakhstan's Andrey Kashechkin, who was eighth.

Police seized a stash of medications left in riders' luggage
during a raid Tuesday on a hotel used by Astana, a source close to
the investigation said Wednesday. The source requested anonymity
because the investigation is ongoing.

Because the drugs were labeled in a foreign language, it was not
immediately clear what their contents were. A laboratory was to
examine the seized medications to try to identify them.

Vinokourov told L'Equipe for Wednesday's
edition that he had not cheated.

"It's a mistake. I never doped, that's not the way I see my
profession," the newspaper quoted him as saying. "I think it's a
mistake in part due to my crash. I have spoken to the team doctors
who had a hypothesis that there was an enormous amount of blood in
my thighs, which could have led to my positive test."

Vinokourov claimed to be the victim of a "provocation."

"It's been going on for months and today they're managing to
demolish me," he said. "The setting up of our team made a lot of
people jealous and now we're paying the price. It's a shame to
leave the Tour this way, but I don't want to waste time in proving
my innocence."