By Mark Appleton and Jeff Jones, Bikeradar.com
Paris-Nice road race organiser Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) has, under the auspices of the French Cycling Federation (FFC), placed the French anti-doping agency (AFLD) in charge of doping control at the season's traditional 'Race to the Sun' curtain-raiser. The news will come as a further slap in the face to the UCI, who yesterday said that if the race goes ahead without its doping control officials and commissars, it effectively enters the realms of a private competition with no international status whatsoever.
However, it appears that the AFLD was well prepared for the call from ASO, perhaps not surprisingly as the story has more than a sense of déjà vu about it, mirroring as it does events surrounding last year's race. And in an ominous indication of a potential escalation of the clash between the international federation and ASO, the AFLD has indicated that it is ready to take on similar responsibilities for the Tour de France.
ASO's agreement with AFLD is due to be signed on Thursday, with ASO spokesperson Christophe Marchadier saying the French company was simply waiting "for the teams to express themselves" before continuing down its chosen path.
No longer, it seems, is the agency simply viewing itself in the role of a UCI contractor, implementing doping controls deemed appropriate by cycling's international governing body. Speaking before Monday's announcement by the UCI which denounced the "insubordination of ASO and it allies," AFLD president Pierre Bordry said. "The first thing we had to consider was our strategy. The UCI's approach seemed too systematic to us. They test only the stage winners and the overall race leader. To avoid being tested it is sufficient to simply finish down the field. There needs to be more random testing."
Under French law the AFLD can test nails, hair and even skin samples and Bordry has said that it may be necessary for his organisation to undertake testing outside of France in the run-up to the Tour, if indeed they are charged with running the Grand Tour's anti-doping programme. However, the possibility that the AFLD will take on such a role also throws into question the future of the biological passport programme instigated by the UCI.
"These irresponsible attitudes threaten to undermine the remarkable efforts recently made in cycling, in particular with the biological passport, which the UCI reserves the right to apply as a priority to those of its partners who abide by its rules," the federation said a strongly worded statement yesterday.
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