News feature, August 18, 2007
The International Tour de 'Toona, one of the two highest rated, non-championship races on USA Cycling's NRC calendar, had no US Antidoping Agency (USADA) testing for the entire seven stages. Instead, the USADA testers were on location at Superweek, though not for the NRC rated races the week before the Tour de 'Toona, but the non-NRC races the same week as 'Toona. This fact did not sit well with many of the team managers at the race in Pennsylvania, with the general consensus being that the top races deserve the most scrutiny -- particularly in light of what happened in the Tour de France.
"I was a bit shocked and surprised honestly," said Navigators Insurance director sportif Ed Beamon. "I thought it was a little odd that they would target a race that does not have near as much money at stake. That should be a cue to them, it makes sense to prioritise the events.
"I think the more testing they can do, to an extent, the better off we are," said Beamon. "It's obvious they need to pick and choose which events, so to me it makes more sense to target events with higher prize money. From my perspective, they are not as educated as to what is going on in the sport. They need to be more educated, and if they were they wouldn't come out with the comments they say, targeting our sport."
"They rarely show up at NRC events, never do any blood testing, and their out of competition testing covers only a very small pool of US cyclists." - Jonas Carney on USADA's focus on cycling
Jonas Carney, a former racer and now director of the Kelly Benefits/Medifast team was also frustrated. "I understand that it is not possible for USADA to be at all of the NRC races," he said. "I do believe however that USADA does not test nearly enough. They rarely show up at NRC events, never do any blood testing, and their out of competition testing covers only a very small pool of US cyclists."
"As someone who never doped, and someone who works very hard to have a clean team, it is frustrating. The doping problem is not isolated to ProTour racing in Europe and steps should be taken here in the states. I for one would be thrilled if USADA would offer no advance notice out of competition testing for pro teams in America. We would be the first to sign up."
In response to an inquiry by Cyclingnews to the USADA, Kate Mittelstadt, USADA Doping Control Director said in a written statement, "USADA uses a variety of criteria in making decisions on where to test. We maximise our effectiveness by ensuring we have a presence at a variety of events throughout the season, and year to year. Specific to Superweek, it is a USA Cycling event that USADA has not tested in the past and, based on the calibre of athletes competing and the prestige of the event, we felt our presence was appropriate."
When asked for to comment further, specifically to the points that the Superweek races tested were not NRC rated, that the rated races carry the lowest rating of the entire calendar (2.6.2) compared to 'Toona's 2.1 rating and that the prize money comparison easily resulted in the top teams choosing 'Toona over Superweek. In response, USADA's general counsel Travis Tygart said that the need for randomness plays a key role it making the testing effective.
"Within a sport, any sport, we know that athletes are aware of the same events getting tested -- they are going to make sure drugs are out of there system before or not attend at all. We consider all those factors when deciding [where to test.] Sometimes we may even get specific information to specifically target an event. That has happened before and that analysis of information allows us to utilise our resources."
USADA was at the other 2.1 stage race of the year, the Nature Valley Grand Prix. Race director David LaPorte said that he requests testing from USADA but does not know if that actually makes a difference. "I ask specifically for them, but I don't know if that has anything to do with it. The normal protocol is to sit back and wait for them. But we don't do things normal, I contact them to make sure things run smoothly if they do come."
The type of communication that USADA has with the events it tests is a point of contention, specifically with race organisers. 'Toona's interim race director Larry Bilotto said that his race has no contact with USADA. "USADA decides when and where to show up. All we do is provide facilities when told beforehand; otherwise they show up during the race and bring a roving RV equipped to handle all of the testing."
Travis Tygart said that he feels the protocol in place gives promoters enough knowledge and information early enough. "We can announce in advance that we are going to test an event. If that is done the organiser would get a packet of information to get as much notice as possible."
Beyond not testing at the highest-level events or communicating enough beforehand, a bigger complaint among some race promoters is that USADA does not follow-up with results -- either negative or positive -- which can seriously affect prize money pay-outs. "USADA has never told me anything about results," said LaPorte. "We wait a month and hope. You have to send [prizes] out eventually, and I assume it's OK since I never read anything in the news that someone tested positive."
A bigger problem happened at the Tour de 'Toona two years ago when Genevieve Jeanson tested positive. Race officials were never informed by the USADA and had paid the prize money out, only to read in the news months later that Jeanson should have been disqualified and her prize money forfeited. This caused race director Larry Bilotto a lot of problems which continued for the 2006 race. "After getting burned the previous year I had to put the pro's pay-outs on hold," he said. "Last year they did show up and tested. I kept asking [about results] for several months but I did not hear back from anyone. I kept asking USA Cycling what is going on and I ended up paying out November.
"What I really want as a director is a letter that says [USADA] has verified the testing and you are now released to pay the prize money. A nice acceptable business practice, it would be a common courtesy. A letter, saying one way or the other, I think we deserve it -- especially when they show up and ask us to do all the stuff at a race. I'm willing to work with USADA, it's a necessary practice that we have to have -- it's a sad state of affairs."
In response to these complaints, Tygart said that the procedure in place now has the national governing body (NGB) - [in this case, USA Cycling -ed.] of the sport as an intermediary between them and the event officials. "Our rules don't allow us to give it to them directly. Our protocols have it where we communicate with the NGB only. We don't control what the NGB does, but we would encourage race organisers to go to the NGB directly."
Tygart also said that USADA has worked with NGBs in the past to help alleviate pressure dealing with prize money pay-out. "If there is a need to expedite results we have done that. If they want to wait to pay the winner after testing and drug results have been received that is fine, but you have to go through the NGB. The race organisers who have concerns about that should talk to the NGB."
When asked if the protocol or procedures could be changed to allow direct communication between USADA and the events it tests after the event, Tygart said, "We have forty-plus NGBs alone to deal with directly so it is not possible to deal with the promoters directly."
The top team at 'Toona, Slipstream-Chipotle headed by Jonathan Vaughters, is on its own crusade against doping, working on a team level. Vaughters said that this is a more realistic way of getting the job done. "You have to remember that USADA governs all Olympic sports, so it's pretty tough for them. In Europe, if there is a stage race with a 2.1 or HC, that testing is done by the UCI. That would be like USA Cycling doing the testing, and I don't even know if they can. Most of the national antidoping bodies only test out-of-competition. If people want to complain, then all the teams need to chip into a fund to hire a private tester to carry out the tests."
Toyota-United's director Harm Jansen agreed with Vaughters. "Everyone should contribute to a budget to have doping control -- USADA, teams, organisers, the federation, riders -- everyone. There isn't just money involved, there is prestige. These days with all of the problems going on we just have to switch our priorities. I think the cycling federation ought to require to have doping control in place. I don't know where the money would come from but I have no problems if it comes out of prize money."
All of the team managers seem to agree with organising a system among themselves to ensure. The managers in the US have already met once this year to discuss such issues, with two more meetings planned. "I would consider it for any team," said Frankie Andreu, who is directing the new Rock & Republic American team. "The Agency for Cycling Ethics is doing it with a number of teams. I don't even know with the fees the teams put in, how much goes to USADA, but it's something to think about, setting up additional testing."
Some do agree with the argument that keeping the tested races random still has a deterring effect, though with the caveat of still prioritising. "We have to prepare as if they will be there every week," said Health Net-Maxxis' Jeff Corbett, whose riders took the top two spots at 'Toona. "I complained a couple of years ago that they never showed up at Athens. Until they have the money to be everywhere I think they need to prioritise. It is a valid complaint that Nature Valley and Altoona are two very important races so it would make sense to be at both."
Ed Beamon thinks that USADA has made priorities, just not in the best way. "USADA seems to have prioritised cycling," he said regarding its focus on the sport. "At the same time I think they should be concerned with showing up at the Red Sox-Yankee game!"