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French Tour de France cyclist arrested amid doping claims

By Dheepthi Namasivayam and Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
July 10, 2012 -- Updated 1815 GMT (0215 HKT)
Remy di Gregorio has been suspended by French cycling team Cofidis following his arrest.
Remy di Gregorio has been suspended by French cycling team Cofidis following his arrest.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The Cofidis cycling team says the rest of its riders should not be penalized
  • Remy Di Gregorio is suspected of doping offenses, the cycling team says
  • Gregorio has been suspended from the team midway through the Tour de France
  • The Tour de France is the world's best-known cycle race

Paris (CNN) -- A French cyclist taking part in the prestigious Tour de France race has been arrested, a national police official said Tuesday, leading his team to suspend him while claims of doping are investigated.

Cofidis, a professional cycling team, said its cyclist Remy di Gregorio "had allegedly attempted to resort to the use of doping substances to improve his performance" and therefore it was suspending him as a precaution.

Di Gregorio, 26, is being questioned in police custody but has not been charged, according to the national police official who has been briefed in detail on the matter.

Police raided the hotel where some members of the Cofidis team were staying in Bourg-en-Bresse, in eastern France, Tuesday morning, he said.

Two other people were detained in Di Gregorio's hometown of Marseille in connection with the ongoing investigation, the police official said.

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The office of the Marseille prosecutor, Jacques Dallest, said in a statement that an investigation into the use of illegal substances had been opened against "a professional cyclist" as well as person "practicing naturopathy."

One of the people involved was carrying, in a vehicle, products of which the exact nature is still being determined, the statement said.

If proven, the crime carries a maximum penalty of seven years of imprisonment and a fine of €150,000 ($184,000).

Cofidis manager Yvon Sanquer told CNN: "In France, there is the presumption of innocence, so until proven guilty, we cannot say he (Di Gregorio) is guilty."

Pre-race favorite Bradley Wiggins has been training in Mallorca ahead of his bid to win the Tour de France for the first time. Pre-race favorite Bradley Wiggins has been training in Mallorca ahead of his bid to win the Tour de France for the first time.
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Cofidis said in a written statement that it had "very little information" at present, but that the suspicions weighing against Di Gregorio "lead us to apply the current sanctions in a strict and immediate manner in our team, concerning the violation of ethical rules."

"Remy di Gregorio is therefore suspended, from now, as a precaution, as we wait for more ample information concerning the reality of the crimes of which he is accused. If these crimes are established, he will be dismissed immediately as per the terms of his contract and the ethical policy of the team."

Cofidis said what it called an "isolated case" should not affect the rest of the team and that its other riders would be ready to start the next stage Wednesday as planned.

The team has had a long-standing commitment to fighting doping and will be reinforcing its prevention efforts, the statement said. "Those who cheat do not have a place at Cofidis," it added.

The investigating judge in the case is Annaick Le Goff, who is a judge for the health division, the national police official said. Tuesday's arrest was made in a joint operation with the division of public health of the Marseille Gendarmerie, he added.

Di Gregorio is currently ranked 35 out of 178 competitors, according to the Tour de France website, trailing British cyclist Bradley Wiggins, who holds the lead by just over 18 minutes ahead of Wednesday's resumption of the competition.

Tuesday was the first rest day for the riders taking part in the world's best-known cycling race, which began June 30.

In the course of the race, which consists of a short time trial prologue followed by 20 longer stages, the cyclists will cover 3,497 kilometers (2,173 miles), including grueling mountain climbs, before they cross the finish line in Paris on July 22.

Di Gregorio joined the Cofidis team this year, having previously competed with the Astana professional cycling team, which is backed by Kazakhstan. He came in 78th in the Tour de France in 2010 and 59th in 2008, and has won three stages in the eight years he's been competing in the race.

Spanish cyclist Alberto Contador was part of the Astana team when he won the Tour de France in 2010. Later, after he failed a drug test, he was stripped of the title and banned from competing for two years by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The issue of alleged doping in professional cycling was thrust into the spotlight last month, when the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency accused U.S. cyclist Lance Armstrong of using performance-enhancing drugs.

Armstrong, who denies the allegations, faces a lifetime ban and could be stripped of his seven Tour de France victories if found guilty by the USADA. He won the Tour each year from 1999 to 2005.

A lawsuit filed by Armstrong which sought to halt the USADA's legal case against him was thrown out by a federal judge Monday.

CNN's Dheepthi Namasivayam reported from Paris and Laura Smith-Spark from London.

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