News that a package of "ultra-modern" doping products, allegedly bound for retired Lotto rider Wim Vansevenant was imported from Australia, has raised a few eyebrows, with an Australian anti-doping expert telling Cyclingnews that a doping network is most likely responsible.
Doping cases in Australia generally involve products imported from elsewhere around the world, and WADA expert Dr. Ben Lewis was surprised as any by the news.
Two weeks ago customs officials at Brussels airport found a package, addressed to Vansevenant from Australia, containing thousands of dollars of doping products designed to increase muscle mass and performance.
Dr. Lewis works with WADA testing methods on a daily basis, and often creates drug metabolites for use in profiling drug metabolism in hospital patients. He's based in the department of Clinical Pharmacology at Flinders Medical Centre - one of the best Pharmacology labs in the world.
"I wouldn't have thought that we [Australian labs] did or that we do [create synthetic doping products]," he told Cyclingnews.
"I synthesize these kind of things in our labs – we've got the kind of equipment to make drugs, and it can be pretty expensive for us to buy the standard drugs that we use for testing, so it's often easier for us to synthetically create them ourselves."
"I make metabolites occasionally if it's prohibitively expensive or we can't get import permits... For somebody to be doing that – it's obviously someone with a background. Pharmaceutical companies in Australia aren't that big – a drop in the ocean sort of thing."
Dr. Lewis says that with certain knowledge, it's quite easy to obtain the precursor compounds to synthetically make performance-enhancing drugs, and cites the amount of "backyard meth labs" as an example.
"And of course it's quite possible that someone with a bit of a chemistry background is doing it for a bit of spare cash," he continued.
However, given the products have been shipped overseas in some quantity, Dr. Lewis believes that a more sophisticated operation is more probable.
"It's going to be really hard for someone to say this is what I'm looking for, this is what I'm trying to get a hold of and then for them to contact a backyard lab," he explained. "Realistically there has to be a network - to protect the anonymity of both sides and to distribute these things. It's more than likely that there's a chain of people involved."