Blood profiles to be used to screen for doping
By Jean-François Quénet in Paris
UCI anti-doping department manager Anne Gripper has presented the new UCI ProTour anti-doping program as a direct response to the Operación Puerto and Floyd Landis' alleged doping case that tarnished the 2006 cycling season and resulted in the loss of team sponsors Liberty Seguros, Würth, Comunidad Valenciana, Phonak, iShares, among others.
"The 100% Against Doping initiative represents a quantum leap forward for the cycling world in its efforts to fight doping. Our objective is clear: to give cycling the best anti-doping program in the world. Only clean riders should win; those who cheat should be caught; those trying to cheat should be discouraged. Together we can eliminate doping from our sport."
"100%" means that 100% of the ProTour riders will be subject to unannounced out-of-competition tests, especially in periods of preparation for their main goals. All of them will also undergo pre-race blood tests at least four times a year. A haematological profile (blood) will be created for 100% of the ProTour riders and a steroid profile (urine) will be put in place for selected riders. All the riders will also have to sign a commitment to provide a sample of their DNA if necessary. There will be a code of conduct for everyone as well and it will include high financial sanctions.
"The program will have the ability to recognize the clean riders", Gripper stated. Profiling will not mean giving bonus to the clean ones, nor banning the suspected riders, but "it will help chasing them as it happened before with Raimondas Rumsas and Tyler Hamilton", UCI ProTour manager Alain Rumpf explained. "Names will remain confidential until the right time, Gripper added. "The program guarantees anonymity, confidentiality and security. We want to restore 100% confidence."
Bob Stapleton, the new manager of T-Mobile, pointed out the lack of unity in the cycling world recently. He's enthusiastic about the idea of this new anti-doping program to make all parties agree. "Is there cycling at two speeds?" he questioned. "There can't be a program at two speeds."
Teams and races organizers will now have to be united about the cost of the program. The UCI only announced that it would go in the region of €1 million, to be shared by all parties. They have received the bill already: €30,000 for every ProTour team, €5,000 for Pro Continental teams aiming at wild cards, €1,000 per day of racing for the organizers. Not all of them have made the deadline: they had to approve the project by March 5th. "Some of them have responded, all of them will, I don't think it's an issue", McQuaid said.
Some team managers have decided to wait and see. "Should we refuse to pay, we'd be accused of not fighting doping," Selle Italia team manager Gianni Savio commented. One ProTour race organizer has found a solution to this non-budgeted new expense: he'll invite two fewer teams than last year.
Funding the anti-doping program might become a subject of the coming discussions about the ProTour, but everyone seems to agree on the new method for fighting doping. Present at the meeting in Paris, Française des Jeux team doctor Gérard Guillaume said: "If only it had been put in place in 1998, we wouldn't be talking about it today. Wasn't the Festina affair big enough for the UCI to realize what had to be done? I'm afraid the damage done since 1998 is impossible to repair. The new program doesn't resolve the question of the TUE: it was a medical and scientific nonsense to let Floyd Landis ride the 2006 Tour de France considering the health problems he had."
Asked about the TUE and the possibility of having other cyclists with health conditions requiring medication riding the next Tour de France and testing positive but being cleared by medical authorizations, Gripper said, "the UCI has a stringent approach and strictly follows the WADA standard".
Exactly ten years after introducing the blood tests for the hematocrit level, the UCI might have put in place an ambitious program but no one would bet this means the end of drugs in cycling.
Ivan Basso hasn't been cleared, according to UCI president
Asked about his feeling to see Ivan Basso returning to racing with Discovery Channel, and other suspected riders as well, Pat McQuaid has made a clarification about the Operación Puerto. "To say that they have been cleared is not quite true," he answered. "It's a process being shelved. The cases can be reopened, should more information become available. It's not over yet."
McQuaid: Verbruggen stepping down isn't an option
Jean Pitallier, the president of the French cycling federation didn't attend the presentation of the UCI anti-doping program in Paris although he was invited. However, Pat McQuaid answered a question about the Frenchman's wish to see Hein Verbruggen quit the world of cycling.
"That's not an option," the Irishman stated. "Hein Verbruggen is the vice-president of the UCI, he's a member of the ProTour council and an important representative of cycling at the IOC. He has done more for cycling than many national presidents would do in ten careers."
Oleg Tinkov jumps in for ProTour licence
Oleg Tinkov, the manager and owner of the successful Italian-Russian Tinkoff Credit Systems team was present at the UCI meeting in Paris. He asked a question in the middle of the press conference. "We don't understand how to become a ProTour team," he said. "It's not like in football with teams finishing first in one league. When will we see clear set of rules? Is it about corruption?"
Pat McQuaid smiled when he heard the word "corruption" and stated, "There is a clear definition for entering the ProTour. We met in Moscow at the track world cup and spoke about it. I repeat the invitation: come and visit in our office in Aigle, Switzerland, we'll have some nice wine and we'll speak about it."
A few minutes later, Tinkov also heard about the CAS decision to extend Danilo Hondo's ban for another ten months. As his team is lacking riders now after Sergey Klimov's injury, the Russian entrepreneur is considering taking Jörg Jaksche on board. McQuaid confirmed to him that the German rider is free to race despite his history in the Operación Puerto.