HERAS QUITS CYCLING
Roberto Heras, three times winner of the Tour of Spain, has opted to end his career at the early age of 33. Heras had recently completed a two-year ban after testing positive for EPO, but he has nonetheless decided that a return to racing is definitively out of the question.
Widely considered one of cycling’s top climbers of recent years - at least prior to his two-year ban for EPO - Heras had received a huge number of offers from second-level teams for 2008.
But as he put it to the Spanish media on Saturday “none of them offered the right sort of conditions.” - a phrase which professional riders tend to use as a polite way of saying the money wasn’t good enough.
Like his compatriot Joseba Beloki - three times a podium finisher on the Tour de France and who has also recently quit cycling - Heras left the sport with a final blast at the Ethics Code, which prevents ProTour teams from signing riders who have tested positive for a four year period.
“I still don’t understand how a code like that can work.” Heras said. “If I’ve completed my suspension, why can’t I sign for a ProTour team?”
“I read about Beloki a few days back - and other big-name riders will have to quit the sport, too. It’s very difficult for cycling to emerge from this sort of crisis when the UCI, the teams and the organisers are all in conflict with each other.”
Heras tested positive for EPO just hours before he completed a record-breaking fourth Tour of Spain victory in 2005. Stripped of his win - which went to runner-up Denis Menchov - the Spaniard admits that “it’s not been the end of my career I wanted, but I still think I’ve been fortunate. There isn't any bureacrat out there that can take away the good moments.”
He insisted to the last that he was innocent of the charges of EPO use, and his case is now being heard in the Spanish courts.
“i’d be happy if they only recognised that the testing wasn’t carried out well.” Heras - whose ‘B’ test was first declared illegible by a Madrid laboratory before it finally confirmed the presence of EPO - said.
Whilst in Spain Heras has finally thrown in the towel, in Italy another rider whose career has been overshadowed by doping, Ivan Basso, is already preparing his return to the bunch in late October 2008.
According to Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport, Basso could sign for either Barloworld or the new-format LPR.
Basso seemed destined to succeed Lance Armstrong but he was suspended following the confirmation of links with the Spanish anti-doping probe Operacion Puerto. But unlike Heras - also linked to Puerto - the 30-year-old winner of the 2006 Giro is not yet ready to quit.