Cycling: Tour de France ban for Italian team

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TOUR DE FRANCE organisers yesterday excluded the Italian team Vini Caldirola from this year's competition following the expulsion of the team's leader, Serguei Honchar, from the Tour de Suisse on suspicion of having used banned substances.

Meanwhile, the TVM team, excluded on Wednesday along with several individual riders, is reported to have plans to file a court complaint against Tour organisers who, fearful of new doping scandals like those that marred last year's event, are seeking a clean ride for this year's race, which starts 3 July.

"Tour rules stipulate that `organisers can reject, until [the start of the race] any team which does not present the best elements,"' said a statement from the Societe du Tour de France.

The statement noted that Honchar, was given a forced 15-day rest on Thursday by the International Cycling Union after a test showed that Honchar's red blood cell count was too high, a sign of possible use of the performance-enhancing drug EPO.

Another Italian team, Cantina Tollo, is to take Vini Caldirola's place in the Tour. On Wednesday, race organisers barred Richard Virenque, Laurent Roux and Philippe Gaumont, as well as the entire TVM team. French authorities have placed Virenque, Roux and Gaumont under formal investigation, a step away from being formally charged.

1996 winner Bjarne Riis may miss this year's Tour de France after braking his arm before the fourth stage of the Tour of Switzerland yesterday.