Ex-Tour de France cyclist Laurent Jalabert quits as TV/radio pundit after drug claims

PARIS (AFP) - Former cyclist Laurent Jalabert told AFP on Tuesday that he was stepping down as a television and radio pundit for the forthcoming Tour de France because of doping revelations.

The French rider had been due to work for RTL radio and France Televisions during the Tour, which begins on the Mediterranean island of Corsica on Saturday.

But he was accused in a newspaper report on Monday of having taken the banned blood booster erythropoetin (EPO) during the 1998 Tour.

"In order to be able to prepare a calm defence when the time comes, I have decided of my own volition to stop my work as a consultant with different media," Jalabert said in a statement.

The 44-year-old, a four-time stage winner on the Tour, said he had only learnt about the allegations via the press.

"I don't want this to spoil the celebrations for the 100th Tour de France nor damage the image of those I work with," he added.

Jalabert, who retired from cycling in 2002, is alleged to have used EPO during the scandal-hit 1998 Tour, which notably saw the Festina team excluded from the race after doping paraphernalia was seized from the outfit's doctor.

The Internet edition of French sports daily L'Equipe claimed he was identified through retrospective testing dating back to 2004.

The tests in question were conducted anonymously but a French Senate commission examining the effectiveness of the fight against doping unearthed the documents, allowing the samples to be identified, the newspaper alleged.

Jalabert, who testified before the enquiry in May this year, did not win a stage nor wear the leader's yellow jersey in 1998 and withdrew from the race in the Alps mountain stages.

EPO was at the time undetectable in dope samples but a test was developed in 2001.

Jalabert initially responded to the claims by saying: "I can't say whether it's false, I can't say whether it's true."

His best Tour finish was in 1995, when he was fourth in the overall classification. During his career, he never tested positive for banned substances.

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