WADA’s Tour de France Independent Observer report is broadly positive, but highlights several serious shortcomings
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Thursday, October 28, 2010

WADA’s Tour de France Independent Observer report is broadly positive, but highlights several serious shortcomings

by Shane Stokes at 6:43 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France, Doping
Specific examples given of four cases where recommended testing was not carried out or significantly delayed

Today’s publication of the World Anti Doping Agency's Independent Observer report into anti-doping procedures at this year’s Tour de France has been largely approving of the UCI’s efforts, recognising that its anti-doping system is superior to most federations.

However, digging deeper into the report reveals specific examples of shortcomings in testing during the Tour de France, with several worrying examples outlined.

These involved riders deemed beforehand to be suspicious, but who were not given adequate testing during the race. Unexplained lapses in testing of some of these were observed, potentially giving them opportunity to beat the system.

A total of 590 samples were collected during the Tour, following on from a total of 1025 Athlete Biological Passport Programme tests completed in the months leading up to the start of the race. The latter tests were used to pinpoint riders who should be given more targeted testing; 54 were identified, and given extra testing before the Tour.

In addition, riders were ranked between 1 and 10, with those classified as 10 as being those most under suspicion of doping.

Areas of concern:

The report gives specific examples of the shortcomings of testing those riders before and during the Tour. Without naming those in question, it detailed that several ‘of significance’ had not been tested at all between April and June 2010. Once the race started, three riders who were either deemed suspicious or performing extremely well were not blood tested during the Tour.

In addition to that, two riders a priority index of ten (highest priority of testing) were recommended for blood testing. One wasn’t tested at all, while another underwent no further blood tests after stage three.

For two riders with a priority index of eight, recommendations to target-test them for EPO were not followed through in one case, and substantially delayed in the other.

The precise wording of the WADA report pertaining to these cases are as follows:

• While recognising the high level of testing and a focus on targeting riders in the Pre-Tour period (i.e. April to June 2010) it was noted that there were a number of riders of significance who took part in the Tour who had either not been tested during the Pre-Tour period or who had only been tested once (with the majority of these for the ABP (Athlete Biological Passport Programme)).

• During the Tour, a number of riders demonstrating suspicious profiles and/or showing significantly impressive performances at the Tour were tested on surprisingly few occasions and, for three riders of interest, did not provide a blood sample for the purposes of anti-doping in the whole Tour (instead each providing a single sample for the ABP).

This was consistent with the IO (Independent Observer) Team’s view that at times more weight was given by the UCI to ABP samples than samples for the detection of the ‘presence’ of prohibited substances and/or methods.

• A rider identified as having a priority index of eight (with ten being the highest and most at risk of doping) was tested only once (urine EPO) during the Pre-Tour period with no blood sample collected for the analysis of CERA, HBT, HBOC or other prohibited substances and/or methods. During the Tour recommendations from the Laboratory related to target testing for EPO did not seem to be conducted expediently or as appropriate (ie. the EPO test was conducted 6 days later while the blood sample was only analysed for hGH).

Lastly, following a significant delay in providing an early morning sample and in conjunction with the intelligence already held on this rider, there seems no evidence of more intense target testing on this rider.

• For a rider identified as having a priority index of ten, no blood samples were collected following the Laboratory recommendations after interpretation of blood passport data from the first week of the Tour, with only urine being collected and no blood as recommended by the Laboratory. Further, a recommendation to target test the rider for EPO took seven days to be executed.

• A rider identified as having a priority index of ten was not tested for either urine or blood from 3 April to the start of the Tour. Recommendations made by the Laboratory following testing in the first three days of the Tour resulted in no further blood samples being collected but rather only urine and approximately ten days later.

The IO Team became aware of the remarks made by the laboratory regarding the analysis of this rider’s specific sample that raised the suspicion of the use of proteases. No further information regarding any actions taken by the UCI for further analysis of that sample was made available.

• For a rider identified as having a priority index of eight, who was recommended to be target tested for EPO by the Laboratory, the UCI did not target test the rider and in addition a sample collected five days later was not analysed for EPO. Interestingly in this case collection of follow-up samples from this rider was initiated by the AFLD via the WADA Resolution. [end of excerpt].

These four shortcomings are very worrying, given that specific recommendations involving riders perceived at a high risk of using banned substances appear not to have been followed up. Ignoring or delaying requested measures represents significant failures, and may have allowed riders to escape detection.

Two general observations were made in relation to testing during the Tour:

• Given the challenges in organising and resourcing unannounced missions, the IO Team would have expected to observe multiple riders being targeted for morning and/or evening testing. However, it was observed that when a single rider was targeted there was no consideration to testing additional riders either from the same team as the targeted rider or from teams also residing in the same hotel.

• The IO Team was surprised to see that a random draw was conducted for Post-Finish testing on two stages. The IO Team did question the rationale of even conducting a random draw, and while recognising that the particular stage was a flat one (which usually finishes in a bunch sprint), it seemed a missed opportunity not to use the intelligence available to the UCI or even base the selections on the performance of the riders in the stage.

This was considered by the UCI after the first random draw was conducted and the IO Team only observed one further random draw being conducted again on the Tour. [end of excerpt].

A total of 57 recommendations were made, and will be detailed in greater depth soon by VeloNation. One of the most important is that the UCI prioritises “a more varied, targeted and aggressive approach to catching cheating riders.”

This would involve increasing the number of anti-doping tests in hours outside those when riders are traditionally screened. This factor should help counteract riders microdosing EPO and also using other substances and techniques which have only a limited timeframe to be detected. It also advocated limiting random testing, and instead targeting riders based on other information and performance.

WADA’s report was generally positive about the initiatives at this year’s Tour. It said that the number of recommendations “should not be viewed in any way as detracting from the IO’s conclusion that the anti-doping programme at the 2010 Tour was of a good quality.” It said that the “IO Team believes that there are very few anti-doping programmes delivered by International Federations that come close to matching that of the UCI.”

However, as the specific cases above show, there are still significant examples that suspect riders could be passing through the gaps. Failing to carry out recommended tests or substantially delaying them is a serious matter, and one which could have given the individuals concerned clear room for manoeuvre.

More to follow….



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