A doping scandal has rocked Australian cycling team Orica-GreenEDGE three days before the Tour de France.
South African team member Daryl Impey, who made history last year as the first rider from his country to wear the Tour’s famed yellow jersey, has tested positive to the banned masking agent Probenecid.
Impey was a stunning omission on Tuesday when Orica-GreenEDGE announced the team for the July 5-27 Tour.
He is one of their strongest riders and would have provided crucial support for team leader Simon Gerrans and young sprinter Michael Matthews.
The day after the team was named, Impey and the team confirmed the positive results for his A and B test samples.
In a statement on his website, Impey insisted he was innocent.
Orica-GreenEDGE also released a statement, saying that under their code of conduct he would not race until the case is settled.
The test was conducted at the South African time trial championship on February 6, but he said Cycling South Africa President William Newman only told him on June 23 about the positive A sample test.
The rider flew from Europe back to South Africa to witness the analysis of his B sample test on June 27.
That result also came back positive.
“I had no knowledge of Probenecid nor have I ever taken the substance knowingly in any manner,” Impey said.
“I am committed to drug-free sport and fully intend to take all steps necessary to clear myself of any suspicion.
“The notification came as a complete shock to me just days before the start of the Tour de France, particularly since anti-doping tests conducted on me on 8 and 9 February 2014 yielded no adverse results.”
The positive test is shattering for Orica-GreenEDGE on several fronts.
It will ensure intense media pressure on the team over the next few days leading into the start of the race.
Apart from losing Impey’s talent, he is also one of the most popular riders on the Orica-GreenEDGE roster and the news is an undoubted blow to team morale.
The positive test is also a blow to Orica-GreenEDGE’s image.
They have prided themselves on being a clean team in the post-Lance Armstrong era.
Team director Matt White was stood down from the team in October 2012 after he admitted to doping during his professional racing career.
He returned to the role before last year’s Tour de France.
Team veteran Stuart O’Grady ended his racing career after that Tour.
Three days later, his stellar reputation was in tatters when he admitted to doping once in the late ’90s.
After Armstrong was banned for life and White admitted to his doping past, Orica-GreenEDGE commissioned anti-doping consultant Nicki Vance to conduct an extensive independent review of the team.