Special report, July 29, 2004
Minnesota-based cyclist Adam Bergman has been sacked by the Jelly Belly presented by Aramark cycling team and made to return his equipment, following the announcement by the US Anti-Doping Authority (USADA) that he had tested positive for recombinant human Erythropoietin (rEPO).
Bergman has accepted the provisional suspension, according to USADA, and on July 27, 2004, he commenced serving what could be a two-year suspension from the sport. However, the final penalty will be decided at a hearing to be held later this year.
A spokesperson for USA Cycling said it's likely the rider will request a hearing and until a decision is made by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), he is not suspended by the USAC. However, by accepting the provisional suspension, Bergman has agreed not to compete in any competitions under the jurisdiction of UCI, USAC or the United States Olympic Committee.
The USAC spokesperson said that if proven guilty at the hearing, it's also likely that Bergman will be stripped of the points he has accumulated throughout the 2004 race season. Currently, Bergman is in second place on the US Cycling Federation National Racing Calendar (USCF NRC), the all-important domestic race series in the USA. The 23 year-old Bergam is on 937 points, trailing Webcor's Chris Horner who's in first place with 1300 points according to the latest data from the USAC.
Further, Bergman's team, Jelly Belly presented by Aramark, is second in the NRC teams classification. The USAC spokesperson said that although there is no written policy on suspended riders automatically losing their NRC points, a precedent had been set in the cases of T-Mobile rider Amber Neben and Monex's Roberto Gaggioli, as both riders were stripped of their NRC points following their suspensions.
It's still be decided if Bergman's alleged infraction will impact on the team standings, as Jelly Belly p/b Aramark, is in second place on the NRC standings with 2608 points, trailing the Health Net p/b Maxxis squad, which is on 3391 points .
This year, Bergman has been one of Jelly Belly's strongest riders, although others in the team have posted strong results throughout the season.
With the current controversy over the BALCO facility in California with revelations about the American track and field team, the spokesperson believed the Bergman doping positive "probably won't make the headlines in the newspapers.
"There's so much going on right now, I haven't got a single call about [the Bergman announcement]," the spokesperson said.
Jelly Belly's "zero tolerance"
Although he is yet to face a CAS hearing, Bergman's team reacted swiftly to the provisional suspension. The team director of Jelly Belly p/b Aramark, Danny Van Haute, told Cyclingnews he was very disappointed that one of the team's riders had chosen to use illegal substances to enhance performance.
"We have a zero tolerance policy" towards doping, he said. "He was immediately fired without pay, all his cycling equipment had to be returned and never will he be re-hired by me. That's it, plain and simple," he said. "They're done."
"I feel bad for the kid that's he's made this mistake," Van Haute added, but the team director did not believe it was necessary to use illegal performance-enhancing substances to win cycling races.
"I don't believe that at all. You can win races in the US without doping," he said. Asked to comment on recent statements by retired American cyclists casting doubt on the current and previous generations of elite cyclists in Europe, Van Haute said, "I don't know anything about racing in Europe [his team races only in North America], but we have the greatest bike racer in the world from the US who's just won the Tour [de France] six times, and he's clean."
However, it appears that Van Haute and Jelly Belly may be heading into a showdown with the USAC, as the team director understood his team and rider would be able to retain the NRC points he'd accumulated throughout the season. "His points will stay the same as the test was done out of competition," he told Cyclingnews.
Van Haute said the team and its other riders were totally surprised when they learned of test results. "Adam had pulled the wool over everyone's eyes, even his team-mates."
April test prior to Georgia
The out-of-competition doping test that returned the positive result was conducted by USADA on April 6 this year. Some two weeks later, Bergman entered the high-profile stage race, the Tour de Georgia, and was Jelly Belly's highest-placed rider at the end of the seven-stage, six-day road race through the southern US State.
Bergman finished in 11th place on GC in the challenging event that featured several division 1, European-based teams.
One of the more popular doping agents, rEPO is a synthetic hormone that stimulates the body's production of red blood cells thereby increasing oxygen transport and aerobic power. According to sports science tests, the performance-enhancing benefits of EPO can last for up to six weeks after the drug has been administered. However, the commonly-used urine test for EPO can only detect the drug within three days of it being used.
But at the Tour de France this year, the much-vaunted "off" test was finally introduced after first being proposed for the Sydney 2000 Olympics.
In Liège earlier this month, the UCI presented the first ever blood testing regimen that can be used as an anti-doping test. There are two components: ON and HR-OFF, where H stands for hemoglobin and R stands for reticuloyctes (immature red blood cells). The ON test can detect the use of EPO (or similar blood boosting drug) up to five days after the last injection. It is thus only marginally more effective than the current urine test.
The more interesting method is HR-OFF, which can detect blood manipulations for up to four weeks using a technique based on measuring the quantities of hemoglobin and reticulocytes in the blood. If this falls outside a certain limit, then a rider will be declared unfit to race and a disciplinary procedure will be opened against them. (See full report).