Tour chief hails test that has exposed three riders

PARIS -- The head of the Tour de France on Tuesday hailed a new lab test that has exposed three riders in the 2008 race for cheating with an advanced form of the blood booster EPO.

"It's very good. It allows us to confound the cheaters," Christian Prudhomme told The Associated Press by phone. "What's being done at the Tour de France has never existed in the world of sport, in no competition."

The head of the French anti-doping agency confirmed Tuesday that German rider Stefan Schumacher and Italians Riccardo Ricco and Leonardo Piepoli had tested positive for CERA, an advanced version of EPO.

The three riders combined to win five of the Tour's 21 stages this year. The revelations about Schumacher were the newest ones -- both Piepoli and Ricco were sent home during the race under a doping cloud.

Germany's cycling federation said Tuesday it would seek a maximum two-year ban against Schumacher. He won both the time-trial stages in this year's Tour and held the overall race lead for two stages. He was suspended Monday by his Gerolsteiner team.

Prudhomme said it took more than two months for the positive tests to emerge. While blood samples from riders were taken during the race, testing them for CERA was not yet authorized.

"People in the street ask me: 'How did that come out so late?'" Prudhomme said. "In July, the process wasn't legitimate at the time ... These tests are of a new type."

Prudhomme said he doesn't believe the riders should be able to retain their stage victories, though any official decision would have to come from the French cycling federation.

"It's clear that those who have cheated, we're not going to consider that they won," he said. "We are not the ones who do the rankings, but I can't see how they can stay."

The French anti-doping agency is still working on further samples for riders from the Tour this week.

"I don't know if they will be positive or negative," agency head Pierre Bordry said. "We are only looking for CERA, not the rest."

Cycling's showcase event was rocked by doping scandals for a third straight year. Spanish riders Moises Duenas Nevado and Manuel Beltran also tested positive for EPO, while Dmitriy Fofonov of Kazakhstan tested positive for a banned stimulant.

The French agency has been retesting blood samples from the race in a bid to catch more cyclists it suspects may have used CERA. The original urine tests had cast a shadow of doubt over several riders but proved inconclusive.

The tour started July 5 and ended July 27. Gerolsteiner said blood samples were taken from Schumacher on July 3 and July 15.

The German cycling federation said Schumacher had five days from receiving official notification of the positive test to give a statement or ask for a B sample test. Schumacher's lawyer, Michael Lehner, said he had not received the documents yet.