Frank Schleck, who came third in the 2011 Tour de France, has quit this year's race after failing a drugs test, a team spokesman for his RadioShack squad said last night.
The UCI, cycling's governing body, said that the Luxembourg rider, lying 12th before yesterday's departure, had returned an "adverse analytical finding" for the slimming agent Xipamide.
In line with anti-doping rules the finding does not require Schleck to be suspended or even to stop racing However, the UCI dropped a very heavy hint that his presence in the Tour would not be good for the race's already battered image, saying: "The UCI is confident that the team will take the necessary steps to enable the Tour de France to continue in serenity." According to Reuters Schleck's team has now pulled him out of the race.
The matter is further complicated by the fact that Xipamede, the substance in question, is not, according to specialist website cyclingnews.com, specifically mentioned on WADA's prohibited substance list. Last year the Russian Alexandr Kolobnev tested positive in the Tour for a banned slimming agent and was suspended by his team, but was later cleared by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Nor is this the first time that Frank Schleck has been linked to a doping scandal. In 2008 he confirmed he had made a payment of nearly €7,000 (£5,500) to a Swiss bank account belonging to Eufemiano Fuentes, the doctor at the centre of the Operacion Puerto doping scandal in 2006, for unspecified "training plans".
Schleck has been one of cycling's big players for more than five years. In 2006 he won the Tour's stage to its most mythical summit finish of Alpe D'Huez, in 2008 he led the race for several days and in 2010 he won the Tour de Suisse, cycling's fourth-biggest stage race.
Pau, where today's stage 16 begins, is rapidly gaining the reputation as a place where Tour de France drugs scandals are, in a bizarre series of historical coincidences, seemingly all but bound to hit the headlines.
In 2010, Spain's Alberto Contador was in a hotel in the city on the Tour's rest day when he tested positive for clenbuterol (first place was then awarded to the runner-up, Frank Schleck's elder brother and team-mate Andy), and in 2007 the entire Astana team was expelled from the Tour after its race leader Alexandre Vinokourov tested positive for blood doping. A day later in the same year, the Tour was still based in Pau when the Cofidis team pulled out because of a positive dope test for testosterone for Italian Cristian Moreni, and the Tour's overall leader, Michael Rasmussen, was expelled by his team for lying to the UCI's antidoping teams about his whereabouts.