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Tour pair are excluded over doping

Saeco's Casagranda and Hvastija of Alessio have been sent packing

LIMOGES, France -- Italian rider Stefano Casagranda and Slovenian Martin Hvastija have been thrown off the Tour de France after being implicated in a doping case in Italy, race organizers said.

Alessio's Hvastija was in 124th position and Casagranda, of Saeco, 155th after Sunday's eighth stage -- and their teams have been told the two riders "are no longer welcome."

After Monday's rest day, the Tour swings for three days into the Massif Central, a mountainous, agricultural plateau before heading into the tougher Pyrenees.

"We've received information from the fraud squad in Padua informing us that cyclists Martin Hvastija and Stefano Casagranda are under judicial investigation in Italy for doping," said Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc.

"We've passed on the information to the sporting directors of the teams concerned, Bruno Cenghialta (Alessio) and Giuseppe Martinelli (Saeco), and told them that these two riders are no longer welcome. We're going to confirm this in writing."

Casagranda, 31, and Hvastija, 34, are involved in an investigation surrounding an Italian doctor, Enrico Lazzero, which climaxed with police raids on the Giro d'Italia in 2001.

Leblanc said Tour organizers had sent faxes to Padova officials and the prosecutor's office in San Remo requesting information about the riders involved in the case.

Leblanc has pledged to exclude any rider from the Tour involved or charged in a doping investigation.

Briton David Millar and France's Cedric Vasseur, both charged in the Cofidis scandal, were not allowed to start while Italian Danilo Di Luca, implicated in another case, was told to go home before the prologue in Liege.

"We had asked the teams about the riders concerned before the start in Liege and they told us everything was fine.

"But now there is no doubt and we cannot leave riders suspected of doping pollute our race," Leblanc said.

Saeco, who were forced to replace Di Luca by young David Goosli at the start of the Tour said they did not understand Leblanc's decision.

"The team wonders whether these kind of decisions do not have the opposite effect to the one the organizers wish for," they said in a statement.

Mountain attack

Meanwhile, Germany's Jan Ullrich said he's not worried about his 55-second deficit to Lance Armstrong in the Tour and is looking to attack in the upcoming mountains.

"I think I'm ready," Ullrich said, adding that he was "excited" about the mountains. "There's always uncertainty about your form in the plains stages, you never know where you are."

Ullrich has set a daily target to cut the gap on Tour favorite Armstrong

Ullrich, the 1997 Tour winner whom Armstrong has repeatedly called his biggest rival, said the Texan looks strong but won't know how fit he himself is until the onset of mountain climbs.

"In the Tour, it's important to use every opportunity to distance or eliminate adversaries and if there's a chance, I won't hesitate to attack," Ullrich told reporters.

"I don't know if I have the legs, but I'm not going to be whistling 'Paloma Blanca,' and wait to make a move in the time trial in Besancon," on July 24 -- the penultimate stage, he added.

France's Thomas Voeckler holds the overall leader's yellow jersey after Sunday's eighth stage, with Armstrong in sixth place, 9:35 behind. Ullrich is in 20th -- 55 seconds behind the American.

"I'm going to try every day to reduce this 55-second split," Ullrich said. "I could go to my room, get into bed, pull the sheet over my head and cry, but I won't."

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