March 13, 2006

Phonak suspend rider after positive A-test

By Mark Ledsom

BERN, Switzerland (Reuters) - Switzerland's Phonak cycling
team has suspended rider Sascha Unweider following a positive
A-test for high levels of testosterone.

According to a statement put out by the team on Monday, the
25-year-old Swiss was tested by his national cycling
association on February 14.

In keeping with UCI guidelines, Phonak said it was
suspending Unweider immediately but would wait for the B-test
before deciding on further action.

If confirmed by the B-test, the news will be an untimely
blow for the Swiss outfit which appeared to have put recent
doping problems behind it with Sunday's victory in the
Paris-Nice stage race for team leader Floyd Landis.

Unweider was not part of the Paris-Nice team but did take
part in last month's one-day race from Milan to Turin.

Prior to Monday's announcement, Phonak had gone 16 months
without a positive confirmed doping test -- in August 2005
Italian rider Fabrizio Guidi failed an A-test for EPO but was
cleared by the B-test.

In the four months from August to November 2004, the team
was rocked by three positive tests -- leading the International
Cycling Union (UCI) to threaten it with expulsion from the
newly-formed Pro Tour.

Former team leader Tyler Hamilton was the most well-known
cyclist involved and was eventually sacked by the team after
tests showed the American had practiced blood doping.

His Spanish colleague Santiago Perez tested positive for
the same method, while Switzerland's former world champion
Oscar Camenzind had earlier been forced to end his career after
a positive EPO test.

In September 2005, the team also fired Spanish rider Santos
Gonzalez after the two-time national champion returned
inconsistent blood levels in internal, team-conducted tests.

The dismissal was seen as evidence of Phonak's new tough
stance on medical irregularities -- particularly as Gonzalez
had not exceeded permitted UCI levels.

Gonzalez, who now races for Spanish continental side 3
Molinos, continues to maintain his innocence and is currently
suing Phonak over his expulsion from the team.