Doping expert skeptical over cheat controls
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Thursday, July 3, 2008

Doping expert skeptical over cheat controls

by Agence France-Presse at 7:32 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France, Doping
by Justin Davis

Hopes of an entirely clean peloton contesting this year's Tour de France should not be taken too seriously, if the claims of a top anti-doping expert are to be believed.

The world's biggest bike race clicks into gear Saturday for three weeks of what organisers hope will be a scandal-free edition.

Going on the past editions in the 10 years since the infamous Festina doping scandal of 1998 - where the widespread use of banned blood booster EPO (erythropoietin) was revealed - the odds are unfortunately against the race.

In recent seasons, the sport has hit rock bottom as one affair has followed another and confessions from former stars of the peloton have been made.

The only positive side to the numerous affairs which seem to resurface every July is that cycling is taking an active stance against doping as it bids to win back disgruntled fans and sponsors.

The launching of a biological passport which charts the blood parameters of all professional riders is the International Cycling Union's latest initiative. It will be used to compare samples and search for eventual anomalies in a bid to beat the cheats.

Jean-Pierre de Mondenard, a top anti-doping expert whose exhaustive 'Dictionary of Doping' is a widely respected work in the field, has saluted the sport's most recent efforts to rid the sport of drugs cheats.

But he believes the cyclists, and indeed other top athletes, are ultimately two steps ahead of the scientists and anti-doping controllers because of the "20 or so undetectable products" that he says can be used to enhance performance, and which are not targeted in current tests.

As a result, he is skeptical over claims by even cyclists themselves that there has been a shift in attitudes towards doping.

"I don't really believe there's been a renaissance in the peloton as regards the doping problem," Mondenard told AFP. "It's been 10 years since the Festina scandal but 10 years is simply not long enough to change a system which is so deep-rooted. "It will take at least 25 years for attitudes towards doping to radically change."

Like most years, the 2007 Tour began with renewed hope that the fight to rid the sport of the drugs cheats was finally being won.

However it did not take long for the long shadow of doping to descend on the race. Shortly after the start, German Patrick Sinkewitz was thrown out when it emerged that a doping test from the previous month had tested positive for testosterone.

Midway through the race one of the yellow jersey favourites, Alexandre Vinokourov, was thrown out with his entire team, Astana, after he tested positive for blood doping.

Denmark's race leader Michael Rasmussen then reluctantly stole the limelight when it emerged he had missed a series of doping tests prior to the Tour, casting huge doubts over his integrity as a clean rider before he was eventually thrown out.

Among the wider public there is a general belief that the Tour de France is so gruelling that it is impossible to race on food and water alone.

A majority of cyclists, including reformed doping cheat David Millar would beg to differ. But De Mondenard says there are still plenty of performance-enhancing products which are being used by top athletes because they remain undetectable. "Since the fight against doping began in the 1960s, there have always been undetectable substances," he added. "In the 1960s riders moved from one amphetamine to the next as they gradually became detectable, and it's no different now. There are still around 20 products which remain undetectable and which can be used to cheat. "One of the main problems is that doping is efficient - and if you have undetectable substances on the market, they're going to be used."

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