Anti-doping authorities have perfected a new test capable of detecting the drug Synacthene and it is currently being used by doping controllers at the Tour de France, sources have told Bicycle.net.
The substance, a synthetic hormone also known as ACTH, has up to now proved virtually impossible to detect and evidence has been limited to allegations made by ex-users.
The new test has been perfected by specialists at the Anti-Doping Laboratory in Cologne and was tried out experimentally at German cycling events last year before being approved by the International Cycling Union (UCI) as part of its new battery of anti-doping measures.
“It is based on urine samples but can also be applied to blood samples,” said Professor Mario Thevis, who developed the system.
“We prefer, however, urine because there are larger volumes and more samples available.”
“Of course, Synacthene was considered relevant and important, but blood testing was not as frequent at that time and the first method was based on blood specimens,” Prof Thevis said.
“Moreover, the collection and storage conditions were critical: nowadays everything is harmonized.”
Experts say Synacthene has typically been used in association with anabolic steroids and testosterone, the cocktail of drugs being injected directly into a racer’s body to boost resistance to pain and to enhance performance.
According to anti-doping expert Dr Jean-Pierre de Modenard, there is evidence of the drug having being used for many years – not just in cycling, but also in football.
Dr. de Modenard hopes the discovery will help fill one of the remaining gaps in knowledge relating to illegal substances.
“To state that only one percent of controls turn up positive is hypocritical, and this has been the perfect example of what happens when there is a lack of data,” he said.