A report by the BBC has claimed that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is failing to catch a large number of athletes using the banned blood booster EPO due to a flawed criteria by which samples are declared positive. The report also highlights the growing problem of bio-similar EPOs - those which have a slightly different molecular fingerprint to regular EPO and therefore may not produce a positive sample under WADA's current criteria.
According to Dr Rasmus Damsgaard, an anti-doping expert who oversees the internal testing programs for both CSC-Saxo Bank and Astana, WADA laboratories are sitting on "a mountain of positive EPO" from athletes that have not failed a test. Dr Damsgaard inspected the electronic profiles, or gels as they are known, of five samples declared negative by a WADA laboratory, and said they showed clear signs of EPO being present.
"It was very obvious that the gels were very un-natural or very different from natural distributions," Damsgaard told the BBC. "But I also saw that they were declared negative because they didn't fulfil the WADA criteria of a positive test; although they looked suspicious and had no natural bands at all, they were still declared negative.
"WADA is sitting on a mountain of positive EPO. They have these very strict rules, and declare that everything is working fine. But it's not working at all! You can more or less do whatever you like with EPO and you will not be charged."
German anti-doping expert Professor Werner Franke, well known for his stance against Jan Ullrich and the former T-Mobile team, said the large number of bio-similar EPOs makes it difficult to formulate a single test to detect all of them. "There are now a number of compounds that bind to the EPO receptor, and there is no single test for them," Franke told the BBC. "You can order it here over the internet and it will be delivered to you here in the UK or in Germany; Chinese-made doping substances."
Following the failed doping test by Riccardo Riccò at the Tour de France, who was reported to have been using a new form of EPO called Micera, WADA spokesman Frédéric Donzé told Cyclingnews that his agency was aware of new EPOs coming onto the market.
"WADA is very much aware of the development of new EPOs and bio-similar EPOs in an expanding market," Donzé said. "A number of these new EPOs and bio similar EPOs are well known and can be detected through current tests."
Moreover, WADA's scientific director Dr Oliver Rabin said he was "reasonably confident" that any athlete using EPO at the upcoming Olympic Games in Beijing would fall foul of anti-doping controls.
"It would be very presumptuous on my part to say that we are absolutely 100 percent sure we are going to get everyone," Rabin told the BBC. "But I can assure you that if you were to take recombinant EPO and that would be in your urine - then, yes, we would detect it."