The Flemish government's disciplinary commission has cleared Belgian triathlete Rutger Beke of taking EPO, Het Laatste Nieuws has reported. Beke tested positive for the blood-boosting drug at a triathlon in Knokke in September 2004, and was suspended for 18 months in March this year.
Like many athletes, Beke insisted that he was not guilty, even though he returned positive tests from the anti-doping labs in Ghent, Belgium, and Cologne, Germany. He took his case to the Catholic University in Leuven, Belgium, where researchers tried to determine whether he was an example of a "false positive" - someone who returns a positive result, despite not having taken the drug. That proved to be the case, as Beke was found to naturally excrete proteins that would yield a positive test.
Beke was cleared on Tuesday, August 9, because there was "no evidence that he took EPO". His case is a landmark one for triathlon and other endurance sports such as cycling, where EPO has been one of the most commonly abused drugs in the last 15 years. It has now cast doubt on all EPO positives in cycling since the urine test was introduced in 2001.
Researchers in Belgium and Germany have been working on an improved version of the urinary EPO test, which is expected to be introduced soon.
The issue of false positives has been raised in the Tyler Hamilton blood doping case. Hamilton tested positive for an homologous blood transfusion during the Vuelta a España last year, and has since been given a two year suspension. However, the test that was used to catch him didn't have a known rate of false positives, as the developers deemed it unnecessary to carry out a false positive study.