Manuel Beltran headed home to Spain in shame on Saturday after being questioned for two hours by French police about his positive test for EPO at the Tour de France.

The police in Aurillac confirmed that nothing was found in his hotel room and released him after he signed a statement. He was escorted to Toulouse airport by the Liquigas team with the words of team manager Roberto Amadio ringing in his ears: ?It’s in his contract. If he is positive, the company can ask him for damages. We did not ask him to win the Tour. He has no excuses, I am very disappointed.”

Amadio insisted he knew nothing about Beltran using EPO as he desperately tried to keep Liquigas in the Tour de France and save the long-term future of the Italian team. The head of the Vuelta Espana, Victor Cordero, has already made it clear that Liquigas will not be invited to the Spanish stage race if Beltran?s B sample tests positive and other race organisers such as the Tour of Germany could also be considering shunning Liquigas.

Beltran sneaked out of a side door to be questioned by French police on Friday night and tried to save his skin and the Liquigas team in a statement issued in Spain.

“I sincerely hope that neither my team sponsors nor my colleagues are harmed by what has happened and I hope that no one takes action against them that indiscriminately harms them,? he said.

“Following the usual procedure in these cases, I will request a test of my B sample and request that my presumption of innocence be respected until we have the results of that test.”

Patrice Clerc, president of organisers Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) announced but then cancelled a press conference at the start of the stage as ASO tried to play down the effect of Beltran?s positive, in the hope it will be considered an isolated incident.

“We have to stay calm. I don’t understand why this should grow out of proportion. It?s normal that in such a big sporting event, with 180 riders at the start, there is a positive test. I am always surprised when in big sporting events no one gets caught,” he said.

FOUR OR FIVE OTHER RIDERS?

Beltran?s positive for EPO was discovered thanks to the pre-race blood tests and follow-up urine tests on stage one of the Tour.

According to the French L’Equipe newspaper, there are four or five other riders in the Tour de France with suspicious blood values which could be due to illness or naturally high values, but also be due to blood doping of some kind.

L’Equipe claims two riders have haemoglobin levels above the limit of 17.5 even though they do not have special UCI permission for naturally high values. Another case has both a high haemoglobin and reticulocytes ? this is suspected to be Beltran, and there are two other suspect cases.

L’Equipe explained that all the riders have undergone a series of normal after and pre-race anti-doping tests. The results will be know in the next few days.

TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: STAGE REPORTS

Stage eight: Cavendish wins again in Toulouse

Stage seven: Sanchez takes action-packed stage

Stage six: Ricco storms to win

Stage five: Cavendish takes first Tour win

Stage four: Schumacher wins TT and takes race lead

Stage three: Dumoulin wins stage from break

Stage two: Hushovd wins chaotic sprint

Stage one: Valverde wins

TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: NEWS

Comment: How the Tour rediscovered its spirit

Doping back in Tour de France headlines

Millar: close but no cigar in Super-Besse [stage six]

Super-Besse shows form of main contenders [stage six]

Millar to go for yellow [stage six]

Team Columbia’s reaction to Cavendish’s win [stage five]

Cavendish talks about his Tour stage win

Tour comment: Why Evans should be happy [stage four]

Millar: Still aiming for Tour yellow jersey [stage 4]

Who is Romain Feillu?

Cavendish disappointed with stage two result

Millar too close to Tour yellow jersey

Stage 2 preview: A sprint finish for Cavendish?

Millar happy after gains precious seconds in Plumelec

Valverde delighted with opening Tour stage win

Comment: Is Valverde’s win a good thing for the Tour?

TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: PHOTOS

Stage eight

Stage seven

Stage six

Stage five

Stage four

Stage three

Stage two

Stage one

TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: GUIDE

Tour de France 2008 homepage>>

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Tour 2008: Day by day summary

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