Manzana Postobon fold with immediate effect after doping cases

Manzana Postobón have already raced their final race, with the team’s owners announcing that the squad is folding with immediate effect due to a pair of recent doping cases.

The ‘Pedeleamos por Colombia’ corporation, which owns the Colombian Pro Continental team, issued a statement on Friday in which they highlighted the progress made over the past decade but stated that the problem of doping “prevented us from moving forward”.

Since their inception in 2006 as Colombia es Pasión, the team have always taken a strong anti-doping stance, with internal testing, a focus on educating riders, and a modern, scientific approach to developing Colombian talent such as Nairo Quintana. However, they have been damaged by two doping cases in the space of two months.

In early April, it was revealed that Wilmar Paredes had tested positive for EPO, and this week it emerged that Juan José Amador had tested positive for the steroid Boldenone. While Paredes had his contract terminated with immediate effect, it appeared the team would stand by Amador as they suspended him but vowed to help get to the bottom of his case.

Either way, they faced a team-wide suspension of 12-45 days under UCI regulations for two or more doping cases in a 12-month period. The length of that ban, however, is now moot, as the team pulled the plug on Friday, leaving all riders and staff unemployed. 

“Due to the regrettable facts presented in the past weeks, in which athletes belonging to the professional cycling team have been implicated, we have taken the decision not to continue with the squad, and from now on the team will not participate in the races scheduled on the national and international programme,” read the statement, signed by Pedeleamos por Colombia president Alejandro Restrepo Echavarría. 

“We must thank all the sponsors who put faith in the team and supported us over the years. Without you, it wouldn’t have been possible to have achieved all the milestones we set ourselves. We had more, but, unfortunately, that problem that lingers in sport prevented us from moving forward.”

The team was founded in 2006 as Colombia es Pasión, and it was later sponsored by Coldeportes – the Colombian sports ministry that went on to set up its own team – Café de Colombia, and 4-72. In 2015, soft drink company Manzana Postobón came on board as title sponsor and in 2017 the team stepped up to Pro Continental level and started competing more widely in Europe, racing the Vuelta a España that year.

Under the respected coach, Luis Fernando Saldarriaga, the team developed a number of talented young homegrown riders, contributing to the wave of Colombians that have made a splash in the WorldTour in recent years. Nairo Quintana rode for the team in 2010 and 2011, as well as Esteban Chaves and Sergio Henao. Their most recent export was Sergio Higuita, who joined EF Education First at the start of this month and finished second at the recent Tour of California.

However, alongside the two doping cases within the team, two further WorldTour exports have been caught up in controversy, with Jarlinson Pantano (Trek-Segafredo) suspended for an EPO positive and Sebastian Molano (UAE Team Emirates) sidelined by his own team for ‘seemingly unusual physiological results’.

“For 10 years, as the Corporación Pedaleamos por Colombia, a not-for-profit project born of passion for cycling, we have dedicated ourselves to the promotion of sport, focusing on the development of cyclists with high potential while also being flag bearers for ethical cycling, fair play, and competition free from doping,” read the statement.

“Under that banner, we were able to give faith that we were working arduously and with conviction in carrying out doping tests that were within our power. Furthermore, we trained and educated all members of the Corporation, especially the professional and youth riders and including their families, about the importance of standing out through good behaviour, respect for their bodies and health, and, above all, the social responsibility of being an example to a society that is passionate about sport and sees them as role models to follow.”

While the team felt their implication in doping cases meant they couldn’t continue, Echavarría called on others to help ensure their founding principles live on. 

“The Corporation invites the society as a whole, from national entities like Coldeportes and the Colombian Cycling Frederation, to professional and recreational athletes and fans of cycling, not to give up on the intentions we always believed in, because we are convinced that clean sport has the capacity to give us great triumphs and make us experience great things as a country,” read the statement.

“From the Corporacion Corporación Pedaleamos por Colombia, we call on the county’s athletes and cycling teams to strengthen their commitment to the fight against doping, to increase internal testing, to train riders comprehensively so they look after themselves and others. That is the best way to avoid situations like the one that today sees us say goodbye to cycling.”

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Elina Svitolina on facing Venus Williams at French Open, her injury battle and Gael Monfils

Elina Svitolina BBC Sport columnist

World number nine Elina Svitolina, who has won 13 singles titles on the WTA Tour, will be writing columns for the BBC Sport website during the French Open, which runs from 26 May to 9 June.

The Ukrainian, seeded nine, is hoping for a successful run in Paris, having become known as one of the WTA’s leading players on the clay, twice reaching the quarter-finals at Roland Garros.

The 24-year-old, who was a career high ranking of three last year, has struggled with a knee injury in recent months, meaning she has not won on clay this year.

In her first column, she talks about how she felt being drawn against Venus Williams in the first round, how the injury has affected her form and her much-publicised romance with fellow tennis player Gael Monfils.

I grew up on clay courts in Ukraine and playing on the surface is almost like playing at home – so that’s why Roland Garros is my favourite Grand Slam.

But in the first round I’ve probably got one of the toughest draws I could have got – Venus Williams.

I also started my title defence at the Italian Open in Rome against Victoria Azarenka so it is another tough draw.

I don’t know why I got this punishment!

Elina Svitolina in Rome

I was actually talking recently with Gael about drawing Venus, about drawing someone who is a great champion, a legend of our sport and has won seven Grand Slams.

Gael told me it would be quite some draw for someone – and now I’m playing her. It’s so funny!

She’s a role model for many athletes and girls in general, both her and Serena, what they do for our sport is great. They are still competing, Serena coming back after having a baby, they are still top players.

You need to have lots of willpower to keep coming back and having such a great and long career.

I have played her a couple of times, and Serena as well, and as I know a little more about this experience, I’m more relaxed and focusing on what I’m doing and what is in my power.

You have to be ready mentally and physically when you’re playing one of the world’s greats.

‘Every match will be like a final after injury problems’

Elina Svitolina and Venus Williams

We had some thoughts that I might not be ready for Roland Garros because of my knee injury, but I was 99% sure I was going to play because it is my favourite Slam.

I would be really disappointed if I didn’t make it so we did everything in our power to really focus on recovery and being at least 80% ready.

But that means I don’t have any expectations for this tournament.

What I have been through has not been easy because it is the first time I’ve had such a setback like this and struggling with a pain like that.

I have to take it one match at a time. Every match that I get to play here will be like a final for me.

When I got injured it was in the semi-finals of the Dubai Tennis Championships against Belinda Bencic where I led 5-3 in the deciding set before losing 6-2 3-6 7-6 (7-3).

I started feeling worse and worse towards the end of the match and then I had some scans in Indian Wells. They told me the patella was a little bit damaged.

I needed to play Indian Wells and I was in good form, so reaching the semi-final there too was a good result. Then my body said ‘no’.

I couldn’t really play in Miami which was disappointing because I thought I had good form and then I took six weeks off.

Slowly I tried to practise on the clay but clay is harder to move so you have to be really physical and trust your body. That’s what we’ve been working on and trying to prepare.

When I decided to play in Madrid and Rome – where I lost both matches – I said to myself I have to think about what I do on court, not about injury.

Blocking out injury can be very difficult but it is about experience, being strong mentally and not letting negative thoughts take over.

‘Hiding our relationship would be waste of energy’

Elina Svitolina and Gael Monfils

Gael and I have been very public about our relationship and that includes having a joint Instagram account.

It’s tough to escape when you’re both famous tennis players, it is tough to be really private and I think it is a waste of energy hiding things.

Gael is a very open person and for me it is natural too. If fans want to see something then we will show them and try to share.

It is important not to close yourself and make it uncomfortable.

Every week we are under the camera, we can be seen on television supporting each other, so I didn’t see the point of hiding on purpose.

I’m sure there are some people, some ‘haters’, who are saying I’ve been playing worse since I’ve been dating Gael, but for me I don’t think it matters.

I feel happy at the moment and for me it is important. When I’m on court I’m thinking only about what I have to do and when I’m off court I’m enjoying my life and my time for him.

This is the first time I’m playing in front of a French crowd with Gael as my boyfriend so I’ll have to see if I get more support because of him. Although I know I won’t get as much support as he does, obviously.

Star-studded gala provides inspiration for Ukraine work

Elina Svitolina

On Thursday I went to Cannes to attend a gala for AmfAR – it is a charity which fights Aids and they hold a famous annual fundraising event.

It was amazing to see so many stars – Eva Longoria, Milla Jovovich, Antonio Banderas and Tom Jones were all there – coming together to help fight what is important in the world.

I have a foundation in Ukraine and have been looking to hold a similar type of event which would raise money for new tennis facilities to be used by Ukrainian kids.

That would mean building new courts all over Ukraine, which is important because some cities need them in schools.

We are working really hard to find resources, it is not easy, but we are slowly trying to get a good team to reach our goal.

I also have connections now with tennis academies across Europe so another goal is to see if we can get kids, who need help with practice or a training base, into places in France or England or Germany.

So it was important to attend the event in Cannes to see how it was organised, talk to people how they run the event, and it was a great experience.

Elina Svitolina was speaking to BBC Sport’s Jonathan Jurejko.

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