Luca Paolini (Katusha) took to Twitter late on Friday to publicly apologise, after he was notified that day by the UCI that he had returned a positive test for benzoylecgonine metabolite, better known as cocaine.
The adverse analytical finding was from an in-competition test on July 7 during the Tour de France, according to the UCI, with Paolini strongly denying he had taken the recreational drug, telling La Gazetta dello Sport: “I do not know what to say, I’m stunned. I did not take cocaine.”
The 38-year-old, who took victory in one-day Classic Ghent-Wevelgem this year, is the first rider since Frank Schleck in 2012 to return a positive test during the Tour, and was subsequently suspended by his team while the UCI investigates. Paolini has the right to attend the analysis of his B-sample, which he indicated he would do.
The Italian took part in Friday’s stage seven of the Tour, where he helped lead Alexander Kristoff to the sprint finish, which was eventually won by Mark Cavendish (Etixx – Quick-Step). Paolini then took the time late after the stage to apologise to his teammates for the positive test.
“I am not the type who cries scandal and seeks useless loopholes,” he said.
“With success I take my responsibilities in full and try to do [so with] the utmost clarity! I apologise to all my fellow riders and certainly to the Tour de France, the ASO.
“Knowing that the time was not appropriate, especially with the high concentration of the media. I apologise to my fantastic Team Katusha teammates and I hope that my absence is not detrimental to a good end result.”
Paolini could now face anything up to a four-year ban if his B-sample tests positive as well, which could spell the end of his 15-year career.
Tour de France stage seven highlights