Tour de France News feature, July 17, 2008
Professor Michel Audran is one of the world's leading experts on blood doping. He is also one of nine independent experts chosen to act as consultants in the formulation of the UCI's biological passport. Daniel Friebe, Procycling features editor, spoke to Audran this morning within minutes of L'Equipe's web site announcing that Riccardo Riccò has tested positive for an EPO derivative after stage four of the Tour de France, the individual time trial around Cholet.
Daniel Friebe: In the last twenty minutes we've heard that Riccardo Riccò has tested positive for an EPO-like product. The early reports suggest that Riccò used CERA or Micera, a so-called third generation EPO. What's your reaction?
Michel Audran: Wow. I'm stunned. I'm amazed they're saying it's Micera, simply because there's no validated test for that yet. The World Anti-Doping Agency is working on a test, but it certainly doesn't exist yet.
DF: What exactly is CERA, or Micera to give it its commercial name?
MA:It's a delayed-action EPO, which has a different molecular mass from EPO. It's only been commercially available since the start of the year. We can tell when someone's used it but we can't declare them positive. In that respect it's like Dynepo, another EPO-like product. We know that Micera was being used on the Giro, so I'm not surprised that it's also turned up at the Tour. But I would be very surprised if they AFLD had declared Riccò positive for Micera, for the reasons I've just mentioned. Maybe they searched Riccò's room and found the product itself...
DF: What's the difference between Micera and traditional EPO?
MA: It's more convenient for clinical patients. They might only have to take Micera once a fortnight or once a month. EPO has to be administered much more often. The effect for an athlete is the same: raised haematocrit, raised haemoglobin, more oxygen to the muscles. It's funny, because Riccò has UCI certification for his high haematocrit already.
DF: You talked about the differences between EPO and Micera, and also the fact that the latter is visible in tests, even if it, until now, it couldn't lead to a positive test. Could you talk a little more about that?
MA: Well, you see synthetic EPO in urine in the form of bars on an electrophoregram. If a rider's taken Micera, the bars are located in a different place to those you see in a sample containing synthetic EPO.
DF: This is the third positive since the start of the Tour. Does that suggest to us that the testing being carried out by the French Anti-Doping Agency (AFLD) is more rigorous that the UCI's?
MA: What the AFLD have done very well is target particular riders. I don't think their tests themselves are any more rigorous, though. They'll be adopting the same criteria for positive tests as WADA. I would say, though, that if the UCI's biological passports had been ready, which they should be soon, Riccò would never have started this Tour.