Cycling: New twist to Heras drug saga

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The final verdict on whether four-times Tour of Spain winner Roberto Heras did or did not use one of the most widespread banned drugs in sport, EPO, twisted towards near farce after a second test on his urine samples failed to produce a definitive reading.

Heras originally tested positive for EPO on the penultimate stage of the Tour of Spain, which he won overall. The results from a second analysis, which, in anti-doping procedure, confirms whether or not an athlete has used a banned substance, were expected to be made public last night.

Rather than ending a saga which has already lasted over a month, it has emerged that scientists at the Madrid laboratory which carried out the test have no clear reading of the analysis results. They therefore plan to repeat the test.

Heras has called for the process to be halted, and stated that he has never taken "this or any other banned drug". His lawyer, Jose Maria Buxedo, said: "If you can't make a correct reading from an analysis, then the test is flawed. The procedure should therefore be stopped."

The EPO test has been considered fundamental in the fight against a drug at the centre of numerous doping scandals in cycling and other endurance sports. Heras's case had been regarded as crucial to the test's credibility because of past procedural errors.

The laboratory director, Francisco Rodriguez, argued that the "process was a long and complicated one and we will have to wait a further 48 hours for the process to finish".

* The British cyclist David Millar has signed a two-year deal with Spanish squad Saunier Duval-Prodir, effective from when his ban for confessed use of EPO use ends in June. Millar's comeback target is the Tour de France prologue in Strasbourg on 1 July 2006.

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