Russian cyclist banned after blood test

Russian cyclist Eugeni Berzin, a Giro winner in 1994, was banned from the Tour of Italy today -- before the race started -- for failing a blood test.

According to Italian organizers, Berzin was the only cyclist out of 180 tested by doctors of the International Cycling Union to show a high count of red blood cells.

All starters of the Giro d'Italia, which started with an individual time trial through downtown Rome, were tested this morning.

According to race officials Berzin's red blood cells count exceeded the allowed limit of 50 per cent, indicating the possible use of the banned performance-enhancing growth hormone EPO.

Stefano Giuliani, manager of Berzin's Mobilvetta commercial team, said the 29-year-old Russian may be fired because of misconduct.

Berzin, who turned professional in 1993, has lived in Italy for some time.

Italy's No. 1 cyclist, Marco Pantani, who decided at the last minute to start in this year's Giro, was kicked out of the Italian race last year after failing a blood test in the next-to-last stage of the event that he was leading.

Pantani, winner of the Giro and Tour of France in 1998, has been investigated for performance-enhancing drugs.