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Schleck was in for a surprise

Leader, teammates were given doping tests in Italy

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Associated Press / July 22, 2008

CUNEO, Italy - New Tour de France leader Frank Schleck and his CSC team were given a surprise doping test after the 15th stage ended in Italy. No results were announced

As many as six riders were tested at CSC's hotel, the Italian Olympic Committee said yesterday. Labs usually require several days to analyze doping tests. Fifteen more surprise tests were carried out by the committee on unnamed teams yesterday.

The French anti-doping agency is controlling drug testing at this year's Tour and three riders have been ousted for drugs. The Italian committee oversees doping in Italy and indicated that Sunday's tests were part of a prerace agreement with the French authorities.

Spanish riders Moises Duenas Nevado and Manuel Beltran have been ejected for doping. Italy's Riccardo Ricco won two stages before he was removed for testing positive for the blood-booster EPO.

Schleck took the overall lead Sunday from Cadel Evans during the stage that crossed into Italy. The teams remained in Italy for a rest day yesterday before the 16th stage brings the race back to France today.

The tests will go to the committee's anti-doping laboratory in Rome, and the results will be sent to the French agency. Riders who have a positive test could face court proceedings in Italy, which has a law against doping.

Two tough mountain stages and a time trial await in the Tour de France, which is building to its closest finish in years. Schleck has a plan on how to keep his yellow jersey: attack.

The Luxembourg rider knows he must go after Australia's Evans and Denis Menchov of Russia in the next two mountain stages. Then he hopes he has a big enough lead before the time trial.

"I don't remember a Tour as open as this, with three riders within 10 seconds of each other, and six riders within 50 seconds," Tour director Christian Prudhomme said.

Schleck is seven seconds ahead of Bernhard Kohl of Austria and eight in front of Evans. Menchov is 38 back in fourth place, while Christian Vande Velde of the United States is 39 behind and Carlos Sastre of Spain trails by 49.

"It's the closest Tour ever, isn't it? I think it will probably go all the way to Paris like that," Evans said. "It's great for you guys watching, but it's a little bit anxious for us."

Schleck will need to increase his lead by Saturday's time trial if he wants to win.

"I am not a time-trial specialist, even if having the yellow jersey gives you wings," Schleck said.

Schleck took the yellow jersey from Evans by attacking him in the final climb of Sunday's 15th stage up to the Italian ski resort of Prato Nevoso. But it was only a small time gain and, with two punishing stages to come in the Alps, he knows he has to cushion his lead when today's stage heads out of Italy and into the French Alps.

It is even tougher and has two climbs beyond classification. The Lombarde ascends for 13.3 miles and La Bonette-Restefond grinds upward for 15.8 miles. The three climbs in tomorrow's 17th stage - the Galibier, Croix de Fer, and L'Alpe d'Huez - are all beyond classification.

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