PAU, France (AFP) — The future of the RadioShack-Nissan cycling team was placed further into doubt Tuesday after leading rider Fränk Schleck quit the Tour de France following a positive test for a banned diuretic.
Schleck, considered one of the best climbing specialists in the peloton, finished third overall last year, one place behind his younger brother Andy, the 2010 champion.
RadioShack pulled the elder Schleck Tuesday night after the UCI said a urine sample taken on July 14 had returned an “Adverse Analytical Finding” for Xipamide.
Schleck spoke to French police after voluntarily going to a local station in Pau, at the foot of the French Pyrénées, before leaving before 11:30 p.m. local time.
RadioShack later said Schleck “would be suspended” if his “B Sample” also tested positive.
Diuretics are not considered performance enhancing, but can be used to help riders lose weight, and therefore perform better in the tough mountain stages of the race.
More ominously, they can also conceal the presence of a banned drug by helping to flush it from the body through increased urination. Xipamide, a diuretic, is normally used for the treatment of oedema and hypertension.
However, whether Schleck is cleared or not, the news is unwelcome for a team already fighting on several fronts.
RadioShack manager Johan Bruyneel, who led Lance Armstrong to his seven consecutive Tour titles and boasts another two race wins with Alberto Contador, stayed away from the race this year. Bruyneel is one of six people, including Armstrong, accused by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) of being part of a major doping conspiracy.
Both Armstrong and Bruyneel proclaim their innocence and Bruyneel recently stated his intention to fight the accusations in front of an arbitration hearing.
“I can confirm that I have requested an arbitration hearing in which I will contest USADA’s accusations against me,” Bruyneel announced on his website.
The team’s other extra-racing dilemma has centered on claims that several leading riders, including the Schlecks, had not been paid their salaries.
A recent report in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper said the Schleck brothers and Swiss Olympic time trial champion Fabian Cancellara had complained to the UCI over unpaid salaries. According to the report, the Schlecks are “owed around 500,000 euros” and Jakob Fuglsang is owed 150,000 euros. Neither Andy Schleck nor Fuglsang are racing the Tour.
The team’s management company, Leopard S.A., confirmed in the report that the Schlecks and Cancellara had complained to the UCI.
However, a spokesman for Leopard, Carlo Rock, told the newspaper that the company had held around one-quarter of what is owed to the riders because the riders had asked the payment to be made “to accounts with non-transparent backgrounds.”
He added: “We must be sure that we do not support money laundering.”
On the road, things have not been much better.
The Schleck brothers are considered among the hottest properties in the peloton thanks to their climbing ability. However, since joining up with Bruyneel at RadioShack they have mainly flattered to deceive.
Both brothers had a disappointing start to the 2012 season and Bruyneel sent Fränk Schleck to race the Giro d’Italia against his own wishes. He crashed out a week before the finish, only for Bruyneel to openly question the seriousness of his shoulder injury.
With wars raging on three fronts — the road, the payroll office and the anti-doping court — Tuesday’s news regarding Schleck could be the end of the fight for the Luxembourg-registered team.