Bronwyn Fourie, Kamini Padayachee and Kevin McCallum
Durban - Olympic road cyclist Daryl Impey, the first South African to wear the yellow jersey at the Tour de France, is out of this year’s race after testing positive for a banned drug.
News of the 30-year-old’s doping offence broke on Wednesday, after he was left out of his cycling team, ORICA-GreenEDGE’s Tour de France line-up, which was announced this week.
However, Impey had been provisionally suspended from cycling since June 23.
The SA Institute for Drug-Free Sport (Saids) said Impey had tested positive for the prescription diuretic, Probenecid. He had been tested during time trials for the SA Road Cycling Championships held in Durban in February.
Saids chief executive Khalid Galant said the announcement was delayed owing to additional confirmation being required and the death of a staff member at the doping control laboratory in Bloemfontein.
Impey – who is adamant that he is “clean” – would be given an opportunity to defend himself before a tribunal panel.
In a statement released on his website and social media platforms, Impey said he had no knowledge of Probenecid and had never willingly taken it.
“I am committed to drug-free sport and fully intend to take all steps necessary to clear myself of any suspicion.
“I am extremely distressed by the finding as I have always raced clean throughout my career,” Impey said.
His every achievement was a result of hard work and dedication, and the positive drug result had come as a “complete shock”, particularly since anti-doping tests conducted on February 8 and 9 yielded “no adverse results”.
“I remain confident that I will be vindicated and proved innocent of any wrongdoing,” he said. “I know nothing about this thing, I’ve never been near Probenecid, I’ve got no idea how it got into my system.
“That’s the way I was raised and the way I’ve always believed in. When Cycling South Africa phoned me to tell me I was stunned. I’m still trying to figure out how it happened.”
He was present when his second “B” sample was tested and returned a positive result.
ORICA-GreenEDGE said it respected Impey’s right to prove his innocence, but that until he was eligible to ride again, he would not feature on the team’s roster.
Tubby Reddy, chief executive of SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee, said the news was “sad”, but that the rules stated that athletes were responsible for what they put into their bodies.
Dr Glen Hagemann, a Sports Medicine Specialist at the Life Healthcare Sharks Medical Centre, said Probenecid was commonly and primarily used to treat gout.
However, as it was a diuretic, it could also be used as a masking agent for other banned substances like anabolic steroids.
Probenecid inhibited the excretion of testosterone from the kidneys, thereby hiding its presence in the body. Should an athlete need to use it, they would have to apply for an exemption, Hagemann said.
Robbie Hunter, the first South African to win a stage at the Tour de France, said he believed in Impey’s innocence. He is now a team manager with the Garmin-Sharp team.
Speaking from Yorkshire, where he was preparing the squad for the 2014 Tour de France, which starts on Saturday, Hunter said: “It’s a stuff-up.
“Number one, I know Daryl. I’ve raced with him. He’s lived and trained with me. You get to know someone.
“It makes absolutely no sense. Last year he signed a contract for three more years (with ORICA-GreenEDGE). He was set up for the future. He wouldn’t risk that.”
Impey is not the first high-profile South African athlete to have tested positive for banned substances. In October, professional mountain biker Brandon Stewart suspended himself following a “muddle” with Saids, after he had tested positive for a testosterone supplement he was taking for medical reasons.
In 2012, Comrades Marathon winner Ludwick Mamabolo tested positive for a banned substance, but was later cleared on a technicality. This year he collected another gold medal, finishing second.
Last year, Barry Warmback, who is not a professional rider and finished 384th in that year’s Absa Cape Epic, tested positive for an anabolic steroid, Stanozol.