There will be no night-time anti-doping tests at this year’s Tour de France as is it not yet permitted under the French legal system. A rule to allow for the new WADA measure may be introduced in September, according to anti-doping authorities.
It means that while in-competition night-time tests can be carried out in countries such as Belgium, Spain, Serbia and Australia – territories where legality is in place – the AFLD will not be able to carry out such measures during this year’s race.
Night-time tests were carried out before the Tour de France, according to Lars Bak, who told reporters that several riders in Spain had been tested.
Before the start of the Tour de France UCI President Brian Cookson told Cyclingnews that “I understand from the CADF that the first night-time tests have taken place. That’s a part of our armoury in the fight against doping. I can’t say anything on who has been tested, where or when but night time testing is now happening. I can’t comment if that’s happening at the Tour but it has been brought in during the last months.”
Bak didn’t elucidate on who the eight were when he spoke to Cyclingnews at the Tour de France. “I have not been woken up,” he said when asked if he knew of anyone who had been given a night test at the Tour. “There’s not so much more to say, I’ve already said what I have to say.”
Night-time testing has been brought to try and catch riders who have been using micro dosing to get around the traditional testing schedule, which prevents testers visiting a rider between the hours of 11pm to 6am. Night-time testing was suggested by the CIRC report earlier this year and was met with disapproval from some riders such as Adriano Malori. Bak, however, was more pragmatic, saying only that he hoped the application of the new testing schedule would be fair.
“I’m 100 per cent against doping and of course they have to do to stop doping, but what I was saying was that I hope in a race like the Tour de France they do it evenly,” said Bak. “If they come and test Contador three nights in a row and they don’t test Froome and he has bad sleep for three days.
“It’s 100 per cent against the rhythm of a human being to be woken up in the middle of the night. It’s against our recovery, against everything. For me it’s also a disadvantage because when you’re in full sleep you get so angry when someone wakes you up. I hope that they can find a balance and do the same for everybody. I’m not talking about me but I’m talking about the GC contenders.”
Anko Boelens is the Dutch team doctor of Giant-Alpecin and has welcomed the news of night tests being carried out in the sport. He recognizes that it may have repercussions on performance but that it is a welcome tool in the anti-doping agency’s armouries.
He believes that micro-dosing, which a recent study in spring suggested can go under the radar of the biological passport, stands a better chance of being caught.
“There are two sides. Firstly is this a good weapon in the first against doping and I think the answer is, yes. There’s been a lot of news recently, and speculation about riders using micro-doses of doping in order to avoid testing positive and I think that night time testing could be effective for testing if someone decides to take EPO in those night-time hours. With a normal EPO test you would not be able to detect it but the night time test could solve that.
“The second issue is whether night-time tests should be done. It’s a big topic because I’m not the one woken up in the middle of the night for a test. The UCI and WADA have already said it should be done though and from what I understand the tests have already started. From an anti-doping perspective I can understand why it would be done but it’s another violation of the private life of a rider. That’s the downside.”
According to Boelens the tests will not close the window for doping in its entirety and WADA have specified that such tests will only be carried out if there’s sufficient ground to do so.
“Not everyone who does EPO at night and is now tested won’t automatically go positive, that’s true. If you’re a couple of hours later then you’ll miss it but before this came into effect there were seven hours when testing couldn’t happen. Now testing is possible so the window is smaller. The chances of catching someone red handed are bigger. It’s true not everyone who micro-doses EPO will now go positive but this is for sure an improvement.”
The issue over performance effect after a night-time test is hard to quantify but few would argue that it would have a positive enhancement. Boelens believes that the testing protocol for such activity needs to be as slick as possible.
“From what I understand the testing is done if there’s a reason, when they feel that it’s warranted. During races they should be sure of what they’re doing because you do influence the competition. If you’re woken up twice in a seven day stage race then it might influence performance and it’s no longer an even playing field. The UCI and CADF need to make the testing as hassle free as possible for the riders. You have to be careful to not let it influence the performance because then you create what you’re trying to avoid, an unbalance in performance.”