By Shane Stokes
Contacted on Tuesday by Cyclingnews, the International Cycling Union (UCI) has said that it is currently holding off on implementing the so-called 'No Start' rule approved by its Management Committee last June. The measure would allow the governing body to impose a 15-day suspension of riders with suspicious blood values, similar to the 50 percent hematocrit rule which was introduced back in the mid-1990s.
Last summer the no start rule was seen as easier to enforce than a formal anti-doping suspension. A UCI statement indicated that since a sanction, "requires a greater degree of certainty," they may use the new clause for the first suspect value.
UCI President Pat McQuaid indicated that the order of introduction of the measures has changed, however. "We haven't gone down that route yet," he said, thus ruling out any speculation that the biological passport project may have already had an influence on race start lists.
"We are concentrating on finding athletes who might be liable for an ADR sanction. When we have progressed to the sanctioning process we will then start examinations as to how we might give suspensions such as the 'health suspensions' under the 50 percent limit."
The first route would seem to be the easier one to follow in quickly removing suspect riders from races. While the 15-day hematocrit suspensions are not seen as proof of doping but rather labelled as health precautions, the no start rule could also have been billed as such and thus been less open to legal challenge.
Even so, McQuaid argues that the current route is the correct one to follow, due to the prioritisation of manpower. "We are first concentrating with the experts on finding positive cases. Bearing in mind the workload and the limited number of world-renowned experts in this field, we have requested they concentrate on the more important element first."
So what of the timing of the latter? McQuaid has stated several times in recent months that the first official sanction against one or more riders under the biological passport was coming soon; at the Tour of California, he indicated this would happen in "days or weeks".
On Tuesday Cyclingnews sought an update as to the timeframe, but the UCI is still holding back on a firm pronouncement. "I have repeatedly said we cannot give an exact date as to when we might be commencing a process against a cyclist or cyclists under the Biological Passport programme. When we are ready and are sure we have a strong case we will proceed."