Bio-passport experts worried some riders are side-stepping controls
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Thursday, July 01, 2010

Bio-passport experts worried some riders are side-stepping controls

by Conal Andrews at 7:49 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Doping
 
Anti-doping scientists believe it’s still possible to cheat

Several of the UCI’s biological passport experts have voiced concerns that riders may be continuing to dope in races such as the Tour de France, albeit at a smaller scale than in the past. The bio-passport was heralded as a major breakthrough when it was launched by the UCI, but as Floyd Landis recently highlighted, it is possible for athletes to circumvent the controls by using micro-doses of substances such as EPO.

“I’m afraid things are as bad as they’ve ever been,” said Michael Ashenden, an Australian anti-doping expert, to Bloomberg. “I’m not saying they’re using the same degree of doping. What I see is the incidence of riders trying to dope and avoid detection isn’t very different to how it has been throughout history.”

Landis recently confessed to taking banned substances for most of his professional career, including 2006, the year he won the Tour de France. He was subsequently disqualified after he tested positive for large levels of testosterone. Subsequent examinations showed that he was using synthetic testosterone, thus invalidating his claims that his natural levels were high.

The former US Postal Service team rider implicated various team-mates, including Lance Armstrong. In a recent interview, he then outlined how some riders are managing to side-step the biological passport. According to Landis, blood transfusions are used to make the most gains, with micro-doses of EPO being used to mask the tell-tale drop in reticulocytes (new red blood cells) which then occurs.

It was thought that EPO would be traceable for several days, but Landis said that the window of detection drops to six to eight hours if the drug is injected into a vein rather than into muscle, as had previously been the preferred method.

BMC Racing rider Thomas Frei recently made similar suggestions, and said that once a rider drinks a litre of water, then the hormone cannot be traced the next day. He failed a test for EPO but said that he had not consumed the required amount of liquid.

“You can escape,” confirmed French bio-passport expert Michel Audran. “Cheats adapt quickly to doping detection methods.”

The UCI bio-passport system depends on the UCI to make the initial call as to which profiles are suspect. The scientists on the board are then sent an email with details of the abnormal readings. They are not told the identity of the riders in question, and must make a judgement based on those values as to whether or not the levels are suspect.

According to Ashenden, he has seen some profiles which are suggestive that manipulation is taking place, but that the levels involved are not pronounced enough for sanctions to be applied.

Fortunately, Yorck Olaf Schumacher believes that the controls are at least reducing the advantage that unscrupulous riders can gain.

“You will never catch all the cheats for sure but the door is narrowing,” he said. “It’s becoming more and more difficult to squeeze through.”

Robin Parisotto, who is also part of the bio-passport committee, thinks that progress is being made, but that it is important to keep the pressure on, and continue to perfect anti-doping methods.

“I still believe there are pure, clean sporting performances out there but there is still a long way to go,” he said.

The UCI currently only screens for certain blood markers. It plans to introduce steroid profiling next year, and this should succeed in tightening the net a little more.

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