by Justin Davis
PARIS, June 10, 2009 (AFP) – Potential drugs cheats at the 2009 Tour de France will face the biggest anti-doping army ever seen at a major sports event next month, UCI chief Pat McQuaid has warned.
McQuaid, the president of the International Cycling Union (UCI), was speaking here Wednesday as he officially welcomed the French National Anti Doping Agency (AFLD) back to the race after their muddy relationship last year.
And the Irishman believes their improved relations, and combined efforts in fighting doping at the July 4-26 race, will leave potential cheats with a huge dilemma and race officials with a smile on their faces.
Even before the race the entire peloton will undergo tests to make sure they, as is often done in the weeks leading to major events, are not preparing with banned performance enhancers on the sly.
McQuaid said that around 50 of those most likely to star at the three-week epic will come in for special attention.
“The Tour de France in 2009 will probably be the most tested sports event in history,” McQuaid said.
Because of a long-running feud last year’s Tour de France was held under the aegis of the French federation, leaving the AFLD, much to the UCI’s annoyance, to carry out the majority of doping tests.
It proved a fruitful enterprise, with a number of top riders being snared for the use of the newest generation of the banned blood booster EPO (erythropoietin) CERA.
The UCI is once more overseeing the race, but the AFLD’s expertise has not been overlooked.
“Our collaboration at the Paris-Nice race (in March) worked extremely well, we continued discussions and came up with an anti-doping programme leading up to and through the 2009 TDF,” added McQuaid.
“We consider it to be extremely important. We will do everything possible to protect the integrity of the race.
“If it means we have confidential information and we can use it, in a confidential way, to take a rider out of the race then we will do it.”
A major weapon in the UCI’s fight against doping is the biological passport, which, after recent successes, could snare more riders before the race starts in three weeks time.
On Tuesday Katusha rider Anton Colom, a Spaniard who formerly rode for Astana, was the latest to fall victim to the passport’s efficiency — although he believes a B sample test will prove his innocence.
At this year’s blood screenings, usually held a day before the Tour starts, two samples instead of the traditional one will be taken from the riders, allowing the UCI instance access, and a quicker final decision.
McQuaid explained: “If we see something when we screen the first sample, then it means we have a B sample at hand.
“And we will be storing samples for future analysis. We are currently testing some riders’ samples from 2007 for products for which the tests are now better equipped.
“During the race we will do three to four hundred tests. Tour officials have provided us with a long list of riders likely to be racing the Tour. We’ve decided that all of them will be targeted between now and July 1.
“We’ve also selected 50 who will get extra, very detailed testing,” added McQuaid, who also thanked race owners ASO (Amaury Sports Organization) for helping fund the anti-doping fight.
As well as EPO, the UCI and AFLD will search for insulin and growth hormones, although a question mark remains over testing for autologous blood transfusions.
Currently, athletes can be caught with a test which detects the use of a compatible donor’s blood to boost performance, although no test exists for the use of one’s own blood – taken out then re injected.
That slight blip on the anti-doping radar is one which the UCI hopes will be erased by the biological passport.