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Phonak bars Santos Gonzales from starting Vuelta stage
The Phonak team has attracted more unwanted publicity after it refused to allow one of its Spanish riders, Santos Gonzalez, to start the 18th stage of the Vuelta a Espaņa following an internal doping control.

A Phonak team source told AFP that Gonzalez, who was sitting eighth in the general classification, was refused a start "because during a control he was over the permitted limits set by the team."

No further details were divulged to the press, although the team's brief statement suggests that Gonzalez's haematocrit (red blood cell) level may have been near or above the permitted threshold of 50 set by the International Cycling Union (UCI).

An elevated haematocrit level is an indication, though not proof, that blood boosting - either through transfusion or using the banned hormone EPO (erythropoietin) - has taken place.

The race organizers stressed that Gonzalez's departure had come from his team.

"The Phonak team themselves decided to not allow Gonzalez to start the stage," a statement said on the race website,

Gonzalez still has a year left on his contract with the Swiss outfit, who have encountered several problems due to doping over the past two years.

Last year Phonak suspended three riders - Oscar Camenzind, Tyler Hamilton and Santi Perez.

Less than a month ago 33-year-old Italian Fabrizio Guidi was told that a sample he supplied in July had tested positive. Phonak suspended the Italian with immediate effect.

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